Denim demand continues to grow in 2021 with popular styles reflecting those of the ‘90s, including loose-fitting boyfriend jeans and flare tip jeans. As many consumers have put on pandemic pounds, (often referred to as the COVID15, likened to the Freshman 15 pounds that college students gain in their first year away), preferences are shifting to more relaxed styles including Mom Jeans and Boyfriend Jeans. Don Howard, executive director at Alvanon, stated, “The COVID 15 for many is real. The good news for consumers shopping for jeans is the confluence of a fashion trend in denim toward looser, more comfortable styles and brands that had already been actively working to be more inclusive in their size offerings.” Alvanon is a company that helps apparel brands improve their garment fit to reflect modern-day consumers.
Howard said, “As people have been going out more in recent months, there has been a resurgence in the denim category as a trusted go-to item in the wardrobe.” Alvanon has noted the change in the denim cycle away from skinny jeans. According to Howard, brands like Levi’s were aware of this trend going into the pandemic and shifted focus to silhouettes that are more relaxed and higher on the waist for women. Similar styles for men that may have previously fallen out of favor are becoming more popular choices post-pandemic.
Levi continues to see growth opportunities for back-to-work and back-to-school
The Levi brand has experienced a denim resurgence according to Jen Sey, EVP and president of Levi Brand, who stated, “Consumers are eager to shop the brands they trust and love. At the same time, the global adoption of casualization, which started before the pandemic, is continuing to pick up in popularity and consumers are embracing comfort as they go out again.” High demand products generally have looser fits and wide-leg silhouettes. Reported with first quarter results this year, sales for relaxed fits for men like the 550, 559 and the comfortable non-denim XX Chino line were up more than 20 percent over the prior year. High Loose and Stay Loose styles have been popular with women. Sey said, “While major style trends like ‘90s nostalgia are shaping the direction of fashion, sustainability is arguably the most important theme across the industry right now.” Levi’s latest designs and loose fits use a range of more sustainable fabrics.
Levi has been focussed on sustainability with the commitment to preserve the health of the environment. These values have been important to the Levi customers and have helped to build strong brand loyalty. While Levi could not share revenue information, according to Placer.ai, which tracks shopping visits to physical store locations, the foot traffic to its physical stores has been up 11% in May compared to 2019 (pre-pandemic). Ethan Chernofsky, vice-president marketing at Placer.ai, said, “The timing here is also critical ahead of an important back to school season that could offer many apparel retailers their first real shot at significant offline growth.” Sey discussed the importance of return to work as denim is embraced in more casual work environments and as more offices go fully remote, stating, “These trends play to our strengths”.
Levi is focused on direct-to-consumer sales and digital initiatives
The company plans to continue to focus on its direct-to-consumer business to better meet the demands of its customers for shopping anywhere, anytime. Levi is doubling its efforts in digital initiatives including online shopping and the mobile app. Sey said, “These efforts allow us to reach a younger consumer and provide a seamless connector for the online-to-offline experience.” Levi is investing in physical retail stores as well, with a new digital-led shopping experience in its NextGen store concept.
American Eagle denim customer demand accelerates
American Eagle Outfitters (AE) is seeing a further acceleration of denim trends after exceeding expectations in the first quarter, according to Jennifer Foyle, president and executive creative director of AE & Aerie. Trends in women’s jeans include looser denim styles such as AE’s Mom Jeans, flared bottom and ‘90s Boyfriend (relaxed, comfortable fit). Foyle said, “Mom Jeans became our number one fit for the first time this spring, and our new flare leg shape, mimicking the popular ‘90s trend, has seen incredible popularity and demand.” Foyle also commented on the strength of their men’s jeans line, stating, “It’s all about comfort for guys as well, with the AirFlex+ jean giving him the ultimate flexibility, outfitted with a graphic tee or short-sleeve woven shirts.”
Back to school sales will be dominated by apparel and denim
AE will showcase strong back to school offerings to support the current demand for comfort, looser denim styles and leggings. Foyle said, “As we head into a very different school year than last season, there are tailwinds of new incentives for customer spending.” AE is seeing incredible demand for Aerie and OFFLINE by Aerie offerings including the viral OFFLINE By Aerie Crossover Leggings. Foyle discussed customer shopping behaviors as the country comes out of the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions lift around the country. She stated, “Our core customer has a strong desire to connect with friends and is more digitally connected than ever before, engaging with social media when shopping. As part of our strong omnichannel business and emphasis on innovation, we’ve seen a positive response to offering customers new ways to shop virtually and engage with the brand.” Currently AE offers many social media platforms that engage the target market including TikTok and Snapchat, where loyal customers create unique content.
Apparel shopping trend is across the board
Sezzle, a popular buy-now-pay-later solution, stated that 75% of shoppers have purchased apparel, accessories, and shoes over the past month, according to a recent survey released earlier in June. Insights from the survey showed that 39% of participants are prioritizing seeing family and friends this summer, with travel ranking second at 24%. The apparel industry should continue to benefit from this post-pandemic shift in consumer spending toward “going out” items. In addition, 54% of survey respondents indicated that later in the summer, the same three categories will remain their preference for back-to-school shopping. Survey participants indicated their general desire to shop in stores so that they can see and touch the currently popular products, experiment with styling options for outfits, and experience the instant gratification imparted through products purchased. Sezzle’s survey includes Gen Z (14%), Millennials (43%), Gen X (29%) and Baby Boomers (14%).
Chernofsky, said, “Apparel retailers are experiencing a significant recovery trend with several brands already reaching visible growth when compared to 2019.” American Eagle Outfitters and Levi have both recently experienced more shopping visits than in 2019 and are currently leading the industry in visits for denim shopping.
Cotton Incorporated survey shows demand for denim
Results from a recent survey by Cotton Incorporated, a research and marketing company representing U.S. upland cotton, and funded by U.S. cotton growers and importers of cotton has shown some positive signs for retail, apparel retail and comfortable clothing. Specifically, the data from a recent survey showed a 16-percentage point jump in those reporting that they are currently spending the same amount or planning to spend more on clothing compared to their pre- pandemic spending levels.
Kim Kitchings, senior vice-president consumer marketing of Cotton Incorporated, said, “Looking forward, as many consumers re-enter the workforce and resume social gatherings, the top items on their lists are denim jeans (31%), t-shirts (30%) and athleisure (29%).” Kitchings discussed how consumers are seeing denim as a dress-up item in today’s wardrobe. Cotton Incorporated has reported that average fabric weights have declined overall for the past few years, which has made clothing less durable. Today’s consumer, however, is looking for clothing that is more durable and long-lasting, which bodes well for denim apparel. Kitchings notes, however, that there has been a very recent uptick in fabric weights.
America’s love for denim
Denim’s durable, affordable and fashionable characteristics have made it a long-loved favorite for the U.S and global markets. Levi Strauss obtained the U.S. patent for putting rivets in men’s work pants in 1873, making them more durable. This process was essentially the birth of blue jeans and since that time they have morphed into a myriad of styles reflective of the times.