As the noughties draw to a close, so too it seems does an incredible decade for women’s denim.
After 10 years of women’s denim dominating the fashion headlines, with skinny styles and boyfriend fits setting the trend agenda, new figures indicate the category may have had its moment.
Sales of women’s jeans slumped 22% in the 24 weeks to October 3, according to retail research group Kantar Worldpanel Fashion, sending shockwaves through the industry. The declines hit all retailer types, including branded, own label, full-price and discount chains, suggesting fashion trends are on the move.
“Denim is at the bottom of the cycle at the moment,” says Kapil Tyagi, UK retail and wholesale manager at Gas Jeans, for which
the number of indies stocking its women’s denim range has halved in 2010 compared with 2007.
Tyagi cites the trend for maxi dresses in spring 10 and the general appetite for leggings as key to the decline.
Catwalks, such as Céline’s autumn 10 show, have also focused on a smarter, more classic look, with trousers a key focus. Chinos as well as dresses in general are also gaining in popularity - note J Brand’s Houlihan cargos, one of this summer’s sell-outs.
“Women are looking for a sexier and more feminine style rather than a jeans look,” says one high street retailer’s branded buyer. He says the trend for summer dresses helped to knock jeans off the retailer’s top-performing category spot: “I think this will continue, and will leave brands in a difficult position.”
Jonny Hewlett, UK managing director of denim brand Diesel, says that, while denim has undoubtedly been hit by a switch in trends, its decline has been on the horizon for some time.
“[Women’s] denim has taken a beating over the past few years,” he says, adding that Diesel experienced a single-digit decline in sales of its women’s jeans this year compared with 2009. “Clearly over the past three to four seasons, we’ve seen a trend towards leggings and dresses, and this has impacted sales.”
But denim brands are fighting to claw back their share of the deteriorating market. Improvements to fit, new cuts and innovative ways of displaying and promoting brands’ denim offers are all in planning.
Diesel has followed the example set by Levi’s premium shapewear sub-brand Curve ID, launched in July, which focuses on fit. Levi’s has signed a further 50 stockists for the range for spring 11.
Hewlett says: “We’ve overhauled our women’s range for spring 11 and are focusing on fit.”
Premium etailer My-Wardrobe launched its Denim Bar, a dedicated denim section, on its site in April, featuring tips on how to wear the latest denim styles and a glossary of terms, and has reported a jump in denim sales since. It is also introducing additional denim brands such as MiH Jeans and Levi’s for spring 11.
Department store chain John Lewis has installed a denim wall into 11 of its womenswear floors and seen sales climb 30% year on year over the past six months. “We really improved the clarity of our offer and we’ve seen a lift as a result,” says a spokeswoman.
Crest of a wave
Premium brands such as J Brand and Hudson have ridden the crest of the ‘must-have’ denim wave in the noughties. Hudson UK sales manager David Smith says its like-for-like sales rose almost 20% for the year to date and he is “astonished” by Kantar’s figures.
Caitriona Coughlan, account executive at J Brand agent Rainbow Wave, says: “We’ve seen a very healthy increase in sales during the six months to October.”
However, the two brands cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Many premium brands are investing in non-denim categories such as chinos and cargo pants. J Brand’s Houlihan pants have been swiftly followed by a pocketless style called the Agnes.
Donna Ida, owner of the eponymous three-store premium denim indie in London, says: “Non-denim is growing as a category, but denim is still growing. There is still a demand for high-waisted skinnys, straight-leg jeans and flares.”
The 1970s-inspired catwalks could offer some respite for women’s denim in spring 11, but trends have clearly moved on since the ubiquitous skinny denim look. The new year will bring yet more challenges for the denim sector.