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Ice cream shades heat up a cooling denim market

Impressive online and offline sales of women’s denim over the past year are helping the market return to a position
of strength after a few years of plateauing sales.

From peppermint and powder blue to lilac and lemon, coloured jeans in sorbet shades have been hailed a top trend for spring 12, with sales reflecting this and retailers welcoming the boost in popularity.

After a few years out of the spotlight, with the focus on dresses, leggings and chinos, the women’s denim market is back on the up.

In the year to February 19, sales of women’s denim increased 4.9% to £710.2m, according to retail research firm Kantar Worldpanel Fashion.

Women’s denim has seen strong growth both online (9.5%) and offline (4.2%), driven largely by price rather than volume increases. Denim jackets and jeans have been the star performers driving both value and volume growth.

Mukesh Desai, UK sales manager at Pepe Jeans London, confirms denim sales are picking up and adds that, as the year progresses, denim sales will continue to rise across menswear and womenswear. “Chinos are popular now but come winter I think they will die,” he says.

“The chino is a low price-point item now, with prices between £30 and £50 at retail, but denim is not a low price-point item and is slightly more expensive. I think there are retailers who don’t like selling low price-point items because they have to sell a lot of units.”

Bob Taylor, marketing director at denim brand Lee Cooper, agrees that denim sales are “very healthy”.

Despite the current popularity of chinos, Taylor says they are not “biting into the sales of denim”. He adds: “People aren’t sacrificing the denim to buy the chino; they are actually buying them both alongside each other, so it’s an extra sale, which is encouraging.”

Taylor says denim is proving more popular among female shoppers, who haven’t bought into the chino look as much as men. “There’s got to be a whole preppy look around it for that to work and that’s not around at the moment,” he adds.

Despite the surge in women’s denim, the total denim market has plateaued, up just 0.6% to £1.52bn. Menswear hasn’t experienced the growth of the women’s market, with denim sales dropping 4.6% to £615.3m.

The decline for menswear has been driven by a 9.8% decrease in the volumes of men’s jeans. However, denim jackets and shirts are increasing market value to £22.7m and £28.2m respectively. Online sales of men’s denim has seen growth up 9.6%.

The rise in cotton prices over the past 12 months has forced some businesses, including VF Corporation, owner of 7 For All Mankind, Wrangler and Lee to put up their prices by about 7% to counteract production costs.

Far from putting consumers off, the move has been beneficial for brands. According to Chris Roche, owner of young fashion indie Ciren Jeans in Cirencester, good-quality denim has become a sought-after premium product. “I think there needs to be a bit more of a focus on price to take it away from the cheap products,” he says.

Roche, who stocks denim brands including Edwin and Dr Denim, says Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger continue to sell well as customers trust the labels and know the product fits well. Denim sales across his store are up on last year.

Levi’s, which put its prices up for spring 11, revealed profits for the three months to February 26 had risen 21%, up from $40.7m (£25.6m) in the same period last year to $49.2m (£31.0m), which supports the thinking that some consumers have not been deterred by the price rise.

Denim sales at House of Fraser are up about 20% this year, says the retailer’s menswear buyer Kevin Rogers. “The customer is willing to pay a bit more for better quality and if the wash is right,” says Rogers. “I think people will keep buying jeans and the chino thing will slow down after the summer. Chinos have been around for a couple of years now and are a bit mass market.”

The skinny fit has been a top choice for a number of seasons now, from designer brands to value chains, and this does not look like stopping any time soon.

Donna Ida, owner of the eponymous women’s denim indie, says skinny styles are among the strongest sellers across her four stores, with women buying mid or high-rise skinny jeans: “It’s more about the fabrication and the colour and the fashion detail. People want a nice neat ankle skinny in different prints and colours. Whether it’s pastel or neon, or brights, or printed, it doesn’t matter; it’s all about that key shape.” She says neon, pinks, nudes and buff are selling well.

Colour has been a key driver in the uplift in sales, giving women a reason to buy a new pair of jeans as they strive to get the latest look for spring.

Caroline Tighe, director of sales at women’s denim brand MiH Jeans, says the appetite for denim in pastel shadeshas been huge among its consumers. “As soon as it hit in January they were selling straight off. It’s been an amazing trend for us and even now you can see it on the high street picking up quite a bit.”

She says ice cream shades have been flying off the shelves with customers opting for jeans in pinks, lilacs and pale yellows. “We’ve barely kept pastels in stock,” she adds.

Chloe Lonsdale, founder and creative director of MiH Jeans, says: “Watch this space over the next couple of years. After three to four, maybe even five years of being relatively sleepy with a few blips in the radar with the non-denim thing coming back, denim will really pull back and we’re going to see much more of it. This colour trend has brought it out of hibernation. I think we’re going to see a lot more focus on jeans.”

Story in numbers

-3.8% volume change in total denim market

5.9% volume change in online denim sales

-4.9% volume change in offline denim sales

0.6% total change in spending in denim market

9.8% value change in online denim sales

-0.7% value change in offline denim sales


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