By and  on October 5, 2011

Men’s denim sales have shrunk like a pair of 501’s in the wash this year, as the gloomy economy, high unemployment and a bearish stock market deflated consumer spending on jeans.

Total men’s jeans sales declined 2 percent for the 12 months ended in August to $5.17 billion, according to The NPD Group figures. Unit sales decreased 3 percent to 218.6 million, with the average price per pair bumped up less than 1 percent to $23.64 — as companies inch up price tags due to higher cotton and production costs.

The premium market has taken the biggest hit in sales, with men’s jeans priced over $50 contracting 11 percent in sales to $624 million.

“My mind is on the economy every single day. But rather than complain about the economy, we need to focus on what we can do better and how to make life for our customers better,” said Cristiano Quieti, chief executive officer at Diesel USA. “But the economy is what it is. We have to give our customers a reason to buy. If shoppers have limited money, you have to create something that gives them an emotional experience rather than just another five-pocket jean.”

Among Diesel’s initiatives for spring is a new capsule line of premium designs under the Our Glory moniker that taps into the vintage heritage of the brand, with jeans priced at $300 to $350.

While Diesel is emphasizing superpremium product for a specialized audience, the bulk of American shoppers are seeking out lower prices. Overall men’s denim sales have fallen at both department stores and mass merchants, as budget-minded shoppers have pumped up sales at off-price retailers by 14 percent and at factory outlets by 45 percent over the past year. (See chart.)

Fall sales have not been helped by the unseasonably warm weather in both the U.S. and Europe, pointed out Jeff Rudes, ceo of J Brand. “Changes in weather really help kick off the fall shopping season, and that hasn’t happened,” he noted. “It shrinks the fall selling season.”

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