- Denim is making a comeback.
- Several retailers including
- This could cause issues for the athleisure market.
Denim is creeping its way back into our wardrobes.
Stretchy athletic wear has dominated fashion for several years. Between 2011 and 2016, the market for athletic wear grew to be 30% of the total clothing and footwear industry, increasing an impressive 7% a year compared to the 1% growth of the apparel sector in general, according to Wells Fargo analysts.
Athletic brands such as Lululemon, Under Armour, and Nike led the way from the get-go, but eventually, even more traditional clothing stores such as Gap, J. Crew, and Forever 21 followed suit in the hope of boosting their own sales.
Athleisure became such a phenomenon that in 2017, for the first time in history, US imports of stretchy knit pants exceeded those of blue denim jeans, according to data from the US Census Bureau.
But now denim is making a comeback.
In its most recent earnings, reported at the end of March, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger parent company PVH said that jeans showed "incredible improvement" in 2017. In particular, Calvin Klein jeans showed "tremendous strength and outsized growth above our average order book growth," CEO Manny Chirico said in a call with investors.
The Calvin Klein brand is benefiting from a resurgence in '90s fashion, and it isn't alone.
America's most famous jeans maker, Levi's, reported an 8% sales increase in 2017, which was the highest growth rate in a decade. The company is capitalizing on a resurgence of its vintage styles driven by trendy shoppers who have been willing to spend hundreds of dollars on its jeans in secondhand stores.
Levi's caught on to this and has created a collection of 50,000 limited-edition jeans from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, known as Levi's Authorized Vintage, which are sold for $300 a pair.
"We were sitting on an aged icon," James "JC" Curleigh, president of Levi's, told The Wall Street Journal in 2017.
But it's not only these iconic '90s brands that are having a denim comeback. In their fourth-quarter earnings, several mainstream retailers reported stronger denim sales, including J. Crew's sister brand Madewell, Gap, Abercrombie, and American Eagle.
Retailer Abercrombie & Fitch reported six years of dismal sales before it recorded positive same-store sales growth in the fourth quarter of 2017. In a call with investors, CEO Fran Horowitz confirmed that this was partly due to an increase in denim sales across its brands, especially at Hollister, which had "a record year" in denim sales, she said.
US activewear sales totaled $48 billion last year, which was a more modest 2% rise from 2016 compared to previous years, according to The NPD Group.
American consumers aren't quite ready to give up their stretchy pants, however, and retailers have adapted to this by creating more stretchy versions of the traditional jean using elastane and lycra.
American Eagle is one of them — on its online store, you can sort jeans by the level of stretch you want, and there are a ton of different styles appealing to different tastes.
"Our goal is to be the authority in jeans in America," Global Brand President Chad Kessler said in a call to investors in March. "And we're committed to it."