The pivotal shifts in the denim market driven by COVID-19 and sustainability. Plus, the essential trends to have in your assortment now and in the future.
By the end of 2019, the denim industry was predicted to grow more than $14 million by 2024. Combined with the opportunity to innovate with more sustainable processes denim is a category on most retailers’ radar. Particularly for Q1, which saw countless retailers release new season denim campaigns with a focus on diversity and sustainability.
Currently, the denim industry is saturated with many legacy brands winning over consumers with nostalgia and brand loyalty. Plus, buzzy new labels with innovative products and advertising are gobbling up market share. It can be hard to make your assortment stand out amongst such fierce competition, especially in the current retail climate shrouded by the uncertainty of COVID-19.
Using data from the EDITED Retail Decision Platform, we pinpoint the pivotal shifts in the denim market and the essential trends to have in your assortment now and in the future. If you aren’t already excited about denim, we aim to have you there by the end of this article.
Denim had a tough time back in 2014 with the emergence of athleisure, which caused new arrivals to dip throughout 2015 and 2016 when the lifestyle was at its peak. Fashion’s continued obsession with nostalgia combined with streetwear’s ability to incorporate both athleisure and denim helped reinvigorate consumer interest in the material. Nowadays, there is room in the market and consumers’ wardrobes for both of these categories, as mass retailers include them harmoniously in their assortments.
But, could our work-from-home efforts to mitigate risk around COVID-19 see another disruption in denim? How have retailers incorporated comfort factors to keep denim ticking for those at their home (or couch) offices?
Analyzing new arrivals of men’s and women’s jeans, leggings and sweatpants arriving online since the start of the year until now across major retailers in the US and UK show denim is still the dominant style.
Compared to the same period one year ago shows only a 2% increase in newness YoY. We saw the same small uptick for leggings while sweatpants saw a 12% growth compared to last year, tying in with the rise of loungewear. Additionally, majority SKU sell-outs of sweatpants during this quarter outpaced both jeans and leggings with a 115% increase YoY. The majority of SKUs selling out compared to last year for jeans and leggings lifted by 16% and 11% YoY, respectively.
While there is a huge demand for sweats and joggers as customers embrace their new working lifestyles, it doesn’t mean retailers should be halting their denim promotions or trimming assortments. During this time, denim with comfort features have seen particular success. The majority of SKU sell out of women’s stretch jeans rose 23% YoY, hinting at these styles as a low-risk investment to refresh your denim promotions during these uncertain times.
While retailers’ supply chains may be compromised as coronavirus continues to affect arrivals, it’s essential to maintain an aura of newness to keep consumers engaged. Look to retailers such as J Brand, Madewell and Topshop who have highlighted comfort in their recent denim communications.
Due to the considerable amount of pollution denim production has caused the environment combined with the pressure on retailers to make critical changes, the demand for eco-friendly alternatives continues to rise.
The graph charts below show the growth of men’s and women’s denim with more environmentally-friendly features such as approval from BLUESIGN, recycled or repurposed fabrics, more sustainable materials such as organic cotton, REPREVE or hemp.
As the climate emergency is top of mind in 2020, retailers will continue their sustainable efforts across denim assortments.
Lee and Wrangler continue to pave the way with their ‘Indigood’ foam dyeing process on specific lines, which requires no water and significantly fewer chemicals. In February, Mango launched a line of denim made from sustainable cotton with some styles washed using water minimizing technology from Jeanologia. Jack & Jones are using recycled materials from production leftovers.
Small steps to sustainably update denim collections include swapping leather back patches for paper alternatives, as well as promoting longevity by educating consumers on how to care for their denim.
Price shifts over time
Tracking US pricing on jeans month-on-month shows the average advertised full price has climbed considerably since 2018. Men’s jeans, as of March 17th, are up 46% to $211.60. Women’s grew 16% to $170.00 – demonstrating it’s the more competitive market. In contrast, children’s jeans have remained relatively consistent over time, currently sitting at $32.62.
In addition to ensuring you’re on top of shifting prices across the market, it’s also important to understand how your competitors’ strategies vary from region-to-region. The chart below shows how Gap, Uniqlo and Zara price their women’s jeans assortment in both the UK and the US.
It’s interesting to see that Uniqlo’s UK assortment is focused on a single price bracket, whereas its US site ranges more products at a cheaper interval. While Zara favors the $30-40 bracket in both markets, its pricing shifts higher in the US. Gap also emphasizes lower prices for the UK market.
Denim trends in 2020
You got this far, but all you really want to know is – are skinny jeans dead yet? Short answer: not yet but they have certainly lost their luster, especially for men.
In 2018, skinny styles were heavily invested in, making up 35% of men’s jeans retailing across the US and UK market. Now, they attribute to 29% of retailers’ jeans assortments, which is dominated by the less-restrictive slim and straight cuts, each sitting at a slightly higher 30% of the total.
For women, skinny jeans made up 48% of women’s assortment back in 2018. They’ve now dropped to 38%, but are still the bread and butter of retailers’ denim buys. Compared to 2018, relaxed styles continue to flourish with the number of wide leg styles in stock increasing by 108%, straight legs by 55% and flares by 80%. Cropped and Mom styles still remain popular, while the boyfriend jean has had a noted decline of 5%.
What’s sold for denim so far in Q1?
As preference for more relaxed denim silhouettes continue, the prowess of the straight leg grows. This style saw 30% growth compared to last quarter with sell outs outpacing newness meaning there is still room for growth. Retailers refreshed these go-to styles by reworking details – look to Weekday’s best-selling jean which has been running for a few years now with the asymmetrical fly. Topshop also incorporated this styling on their ‘Dad’ jeans, which saw the majority SKU sell out in just 10 days.
The increased intake of wide leg styles over the years attributed to an 88% growth YoY in the number of sell-outs to date in this quarter. Culotte styles worked well for Esprit, while both Net-a-Porter and Bershka recorded the highest number of sell-outs in this style, proving the appeal of the silhouette across all market sectors.
Found in almost every cut of jean, higher waists and rises were one of the most coveted shapes of the quarter to date. Elasticated or paper bag waists were of particular note, lending themselves perfectly to the aforementioned WFH lifestyle.
While midi lengths seem to dominate across skirts and dresses in this material, the mini reigns supreme. Solid indigo and black denim saw particular success with A-Line and high waists as the leading silhouettes.
Nostalgia continued to lend its hand to fashion trends with flared jeans proving to be a no-brainer to evoke a 1970’s aesthetic. New arrivals of this style lifted 9% compared to Q1 2019 with high rise flares in darker tones seeing particular success at the likes of Wrangler and Zara.
Not just for jeans, denim continued to perform well in Q1 across other categories. For men, the utility style work shirts were one of January’s top trends.
Longer leg lengths and raw hems performed well for men at Levi’s, while distressing and whisker details gave a directional update to the staple at Bershka and Hollister.
Softer blues were prominent throughout many brand’s collections with lighter washes seeing particular success in menswear. Top-performing styles in this wash were noted in relaxed, skinny and straight cuts, solidifying its versatile appeal.
A mainstay in spring ranges, white and ecru denim appeared on the best-seller list for both luxury and fast fashion brands alike.
Our image recognition software detects the color of every product online so retailers have full visibility of the seasonal hues to invest in. Scroll though the below graphs for the denim colors retailers were stocking compared to what was selling out.
Oversized shapes were a key theme across Fall 2020 trends, which was also applied to denim. Outside of baggy jeans, oversized denim blazers were noted at Balmain, while Alberta Ferretti showcased relaxed boilersuits.
Dark vs. light
Despite seasonality, lighter denim dominated the womenswear Fall 2020 shows, signaling the continued success of these washes throughout the year. Acid washes also started to trickle through as more directional pieces.
However, menswear shows favored unwashed, raw denim in darker solid tones. Look to Salavatore Ferragamo and Paul Smith for inspiration.
Designers continued to innovate with denim cuts and details. Cutouts were noted at Y/PROJECT, while pockets and strips of denim were repurposed on T-shirts and sweaters at E.Tautz. This is a trend where retailers can get creative with salvaged materials to minimize waste.
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