By  on March 5, 2013

The denim market’s premium players are learning to embrace diversity.

Seizing upon their strength in better jeans, many have attached tops and outerwear and some even full sportswear collections to complement their jeanswear offerings.

The reasons for doing so vary — from building on the brand equity already established from their efforts in jeans to providing sufficient breadth in their offerings to help populate the stores many of them have opened, are planning to open or at least sell into.

According to a number of executives assembled for last week’s Coterie market in New York, their efforts in retailing have borne fruit in two ways, helping them to build on sales and brand recognition as well as to publicize the range of what they do.

J Brand has yet to enter the retail fray but has positioned itself from its start in 2004 as a fashion brand rather than a denim brand, according to Jeff Rudes, chief executive officer of the firm, in which Fast Retailing Co. Ltd. last year took an 80 percent stake.

“Our attitude was that you just don’t go out and tell your denim team to design and produce some ready-to-wear,” Rudes said. “We’ve built a dedicated team of 20 people totally focused on our rtw who don’t touch our denim. To achieve the placement we wanted, next to collections like Helmut Lang, we knew it had to be able to stand on its own. The success we’ve had so far and the momentum we’ve established are very promising.”

Initially launched in 70 doors, the rtw was expanded to more than twice that number and will be in 300 doors for spring and grow to 400 for fall, reflecting J Brand’s “careful, cautious approach” to the building process, the ceo said. By contrast, the jeanswear, now adorned with complementary tops and bottoms, is carried in more than 2,500 doors worldwide.

“At a specialty store like Ron Herman, it’s relatively easy for rtw and jeans to hang side by side,” the ceo added, “but in department stores, there’s a separation.”

Most jeanswear marketers have somewhat less ambitious plans, looking to maximize their positions within an evolving definition of jeanswear that includes not just denim jackets and chambray shirts, but often leather outerwear and casual knits. While free to merchandise the broader assortment within their own stores, selling them into retail accounts can be challenging.

“Overall our denim buyers do have some latitude with items like denim jackets and chambray shirts, and there are signs that more of the department stores are making adjustments to allow their buyers to cross over,” said Barry Miguel, president of Seven For All Mankind, part of VF Corp.’s contemporary coalition. “It’s a little easier in men’s, where sportswear typically sits with denim, and harder in women’s, where denim tends to have its own real estate in contemporary.”

With 32 stores of its own in operation, the brand has a natural home for not only sportswear but products, such as footwear, which are licensed to others.

Within its jeans assortment, Seven registered strong reactions to items such as a stretch suede and jeans that were coated and then lasered, giving them a leathery look and feel.

“There’s certainly a return to blue in the women’s jeans market,” Miguel noted, “but the fashion cycle that brought on color and prints isn’t going away. The color palette may be richer and darker, but you’ve got to have something special and novel to help entice the customer.”

With a retail footprint that’s now up to 28 stores, Joe’s Jeans Inc. has expanded its assortment to include more tops and bottoms as well as accessories and footwear.

“We’ve booked more than ever before on our collection,” creative director Joe Dahan said of the recent round of trade shows. “A lot of department store accounts see what we’ve laid out in our own stores, or in the specialty stores we sell, and have picked up on it. But beyond those kinds of opportunities, we’re really starting to see ourselves as dressing customers from head to toe. I’d say we’re at the start of that process.”

New from Joe’s for fall is Tailored by Joe’s, which has effectively expanded the assortment to include tailored blazers and slacks and oversize denim jackets. Meanwhile, the company has enjoyed strength in both its Once jeans assortment, produced exclusively for Macy’s, and its Vintage Reserve jeans group.

DL1961 Premium Denim introduced its own sportswear collection for fall, augmenting its selection of premium jeans for women and men with blazers and knit, woven and novelty tops for both sexes. It live-streamed its fashion show last month to more than 92,000, generating more than 925,000 impressions, according to Sarah Ahmed, creative director. It went outside the vertical auspices of its parent company in Pakistan, ADM, for items outside its core competency in denim, such as leather and suede.

“In the department stores, we’re most often working with buyers outside the denim area as we sell the collection,” said Tami Gindi of the women’s sales team, “but there are some exceptions and a lot of the bigger stores are now looking into” assigning the purchasing of nondenim to their denim buyers. “We’re pushing for more brand recognition and visibility and working with the stores on signage and presentation.”

The company also has six associates working within the stores of major accounts on both coasts of the U.S.

Having closed its sole U.S. store in Manhattan, Mavi is planning to open two units in Brooklyn, N.Y., this spring and is beginning to offer a broader assortment of products.

“We have 285 stores in Europe and representation in 22 different countries to go with the production facilities operated by our parent company, Erak, in Turkey,” said Ardie Ulukaya, senior vice president of Mavi USA. “We’ve got leather outerwear and cotton-linen shirts in the line now and sold out of sleeveless tops for spring.”

Other products are about to enter the pipeline, and Ulukaya expects to boost sales and expand Mavi’s breadth despite hitting the market with fewer stockkeeping units than it had a year ago.

“Our sales were up 30 percent, and even more with our specialty-store accounts, despite the fact that we narrowed the line and made it easier to understand and buy,” he said.

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