June 29, 2018
Denim jeans have got a new trend riding on its hemlines.
Since 2016, this classic, laid-back staple’s position on the fashion leaderboard was threatened by the rise of leggings and yoga pants, no longer relegated to the gym but worn almost everywhere besides to prom. Blame the new casual kid on the block – Athleisure. In a recent NPR broadcast, Bloomberg reporter Kim Bhasin noted that athleisure brands such as Lululemon made stretchy pants more enticing, emphasising comfort.
“People were really wanting this kind of comfortable feeling on their legs instead of thick denim,” he says. “And they would wear it in the gym and slowly that trickled out of the gym and onto the streets.” said Bhasin.
Just when denim jeans took its stand as an acceptable workwear item, suitable for any occasion and not just the weekend, leggings undermined it by having the same flexibility. Even iconic denim heavyweight, Levi’s, suffered from millennials’ turn in preferences, reporting a dip in sales from over $7 billion to $4.8 billion in over a decade.
“We’re scrambling,” said CEO Chip Bergh to Bloomberg. “I mean, there is a big difference between the product that we’ve got on the floor today and what the consumer is looking for. And we just flat-out missed it.”
But that was then, what about now?
Leggings vs Denim Jeans
According to an excerpt from the US Denim Market report by Research and Markets, North America is the largest denim market, accounting for more than 30% of global revenue in 2016. High growth rates till year 2021 were also forecasted due to an increase in disposable income, tolerance for casual dress codes in corporate workplaces and overall switch in consumer preferences for denim jeans over leggings.
But we will let data speak for itself by taking a closer look at two British multinational fashion retailers – Topshop and NEXT and see how they each performed in the two subcategories this year.
Topshop has always been the top dog for denim jeans, from the super high-waisted skinny Joni to the ankle-grazing stretch-skinny Jamie jeans. “At Topshop, our denim forms the basis of women’s wardrobes all over the world,” said Emma Fox, Topshop’s buying director.
“Over the last year we sold a pair of jeans every 10 seconds globally and we sell a pair of jeans a minute at our global flagship store on Oxford Street.”
From the charts above, both brands increased their SKUs on a month-by-month basis and achieved their highest sell out in March. Yet, both also faced a dip in sellouts during the months of April and May, possibly due to the hotter season. Also, it seemed that both brands overstocked on denim jeans, especially in May, which could be easily evaded should they have been aware of the decreasing sellout rate.
Did leggings fare any better?
Not quite, at least for Topshop with a steady decline in sellouts, leading to a mere 15.30% by May. NEXT, on the other hand, suffered a slight dip in April but slowly picked up the pace the following month. Granted, both these brands are not the main purveyors for leggings so what if we took a closer look at the performances of two renowned athleisure brands instead?
Leggings Taking A Backseat
Nike and Adidas are no strangers to athleisure and remain steadfast as two of America’s favourite sports brands. Here, we consider their sellout rates for leggings and see if they matched up with Topshop and NEXT.
Both brands seemed to have taken a dive in February (37-20% sellout for Nike, 17-10% sellout for Adidas) but recovered briefly the following month. Adidas had a steady sellout rate through April and May but Nike, however, couldn’t keep up with their rising streak in March. You may notice that both these sellout rates paled in comparison with NEXT’s 60-70% rates from the previous chart. What gives?
Could pricing have caused the difference?
Perhaps. Nike’s price points veered towards the USD 50 and above price points while the other three brands were mostly centred around the USD 0-50 range. None of NEXT’s products were priced above USD 50, which possibly explains their high sellout rate. The data brought up an interesting observation – Leggings, being the one-hit wonder three years ago is still an item worthy to be purchased today, albeit at a lower price.
In For The Long Stretch
You may have heard of jeggings a.k.a fake jeans. But that was year 2010. Now, there are plenty of options for jeans made from real denim that are comfortable yet retain that classic feel.
So it seems consumers are still not over comfort, in fact, they demand it. Instead of abandoning this trend, denim brands are responding and adapting to the current consumer behaviour by incorporating stretch technology into their offerings in attempts to cope with the fast-growing sector. “Stretch is here to stay,” said Jen Sey, chief marketing officer at Levi’s.
“Consumer preferences have changed — comfort has become much more important than in the past,” agreed Karyn Hillman, chief product officer.
And as one of the most popular heritage brands for denim jeans, they have certainly evolved with time. Thus, it’s worth noting their best-selling collections in 2018 so far, encompassing three distinct aspects: relaxed, skinny and vintage.
The 501 series (left image) has over 100 years of history as the original workwear staple and is now re-mastered to a more relaxed fit. This particular number has been replenished 20 times since April. The 721 high rise skinny (middle image) – part of Levi’s signature ‘Lot 700’ fits – went out-of stock from 11 May onwards and was recently replenished. A vintage version of the 721 (right image) went out-of-stock the whole of April, finally being replenished on 29 April only to go out-of-stock almost immediately after.
The Return Of (The) Denim Jeans?
Denim jeans may vary in style over time, but they can never truly disappear from the fashion world. It’s just the most classic piece of clothing that resides in every wardrobe. Hence, it’s no wonder that the jeans market is currently valued at $92.9 billion.
So instead of leggings becoming the new denim jeans, denim jeans are evolving to be the new leggings.
*Data shown for Levi’s was extracted from several retailer sites: Zalora, Asos, Selfridges, John Lewis, Urban Outfitters, Farfetch, Namshi
*All data shown above only reflected the market for Women