Guys are buying fewer jeans these days but paying slightly more for them, keeping overall men’s denim sales stable over the past year.
For the 12 months ended in March, total sales were $5.4 billion, up slightly from $5.39 billion the previous year, according to NPD Group data. Unit sales dipped 3.3 percent to 227.3 million pairs of jeans, but the average price increased to $23.74, up from $22.91.
This story first appeared in the May 19, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Men’s denim has proven resilient, even as total men’s sportswear sales declined 2.4 percent to $34.29 billion for the year ended in March.
For the 12 months ended in March, men’s denim sales grew in specialty stores, off-pricers and direct mail/e-commerce pure plays, while department stores, national chains, mass merchants and factory outlets lost some ground.
As the economy improves, men are shelling out more green for their indigo. Men’s jeans priced under $25 declined in overall volume by 7.9 percent to $2.38 billion, as those priced from $25 to $49.99 grew by 8.5 percent to $2.26 billion. Denim priced over $50 expanded by 5.3 percent to $754.8 million.
At VF Corp.’s jeanswear coalition, which houses Wrangler and Lee, sales declined 4 percent in 2009, on top of an 8 percent drop in 2008, but the company believes it continues to grow market share, as competitors suffered larger declines in the challenging retail environment.
Boot fits are strong sellers at Wrangler, which includes two mass sublabels, Wrangler Five Star and Wrangler Jeans Co., that are sold at Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target and regional chains like Shopko, Myer and Pamida. This fall, the company will grow distribution of its Comfort Solution series of jeans with stretch waistbands that expand up to two inches. The $20 jeans were introduced last year and will be available at more points of sale this coming season, said Jenni Broyles, senior marketing communications manager at Wrangler.
Calvin Klein and licensee Warnaco will introduce a higher-priced denim style this fall called Calvin Klein X Jeans that will retail for $99 and feature a stretch waistband and novelty seaming and darts that contour the jeans to the body. There’s even a dart on the lower leg meant to accentuate the calf muscle.
“This is an extension of our Body jean that we’ve had great success with. It’s profile-enhancing, and it really enhances the shape and form of the wearer,” said Kevin Carrigan, global creative director for Calvin Klein Jeans.
The men’s X Jeans have a skinny 13-inch leg opening, with some styles incorporating up to 28 percent T400 Lycra spandex for high levels of stretch and comfort.
“It makes the denim ultrasoft,” Carrigan said. “It’s a very simple, clean jean, so it’s really about the fit and comfort. The high Lycra count means there’s no bagging at the knees and the jean really keeps its shape.”
Carrigan added that Calvin Klein is pushing the head-to-toe denim look with shirts and jackets for fall, as well. The brand showcased the look on its runway extravaganza in Shanghai last month. For spring 2011, Calvin Klein will introduce new denim fabrics that blend in Tencel for additional softness and drape.
Calvin Klein will introduce a new replenishment program for its Body jean this fall, which retails for $59.50 compared to $39.50 for its basic models.
“We’re putting that on quick response for this fall,” said David Cunningham, president of the Calvin Klein Jeans business at Warnaco. “We’ve had a nice bump in sales from Body last fall and it’s a sign that if you offer the right design and quality, the consumer is willing to pay for it.”
At Seven For All Mankind, another VF Corp.-owned brand, the men’s business is up double digits for the first quarter, according to Susan Kellogg, president of VF Corp.’s contemporary sportswear coalition.
“Men’s is outpacing our overall business,” she said. “Things really started to turn around in the fourth quarter of 2009. The customer started to shop again.”
The brand suffered an extended slide last year, with overall brand sales falling 8 percent, due to difficult conditions in upscale department and specialty stores. However, Kellogg noted that even during that decline, men’s remained strong for the brand.
“Men’s is more price resistant than women,” she said. “I’m really behind the men’s business, and I think it’s a high-growth area for us.”
Its own retail chain remains a central initiative for the company, and its direct-to-consumer sales more than tripled last year. Seven For All Mankind operates 31 stores in the U.S. and plans to add another 8 doors by yearend. Internationally, there are 44 owned and licensed stores, with plans to add another 36 this year, which will bring the total worldwide store count to 119 by December.
At Hudson Jeans, the company has kept its prices stable and resisted price pressure from retailers, said president and chief executive officer Peter Kim.
“Stores are always asking for lower prices, but we’ve stayed true to our pricing structure,” Kim said. “We use the best mills in Italy and Japan and make everything in L.A., and we don’t want to compromise on that quality.”
Hudson men’s denim retails for $170 to $260, with the bulk in the $180 to $190 range.
The Hudson men’s business is on track to comprise 10 to 15 percent of sales this year, up from less than five percent in 2009.
“It’s tracking extremely well,” Kim said. “Our current pace is to triple our men’s business this year. We’ve made a conscious decision to take the men’s business a lot more seriously.”
The Los Angeles-based brand got a major cash infusion from investment firms Fireman Capital Partners and Webster Capital last year. Its men’s denim is now available in Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman, as well as more than 250 independent specialty store accounts like American Rag, E Street Denim and Mario’s. The company has partnered with several of its retailers in recent months to create promotional parties with DJs and cocktails, including events with Barneys New York and National Jeans Co.
“We understand times are tough and we want to help our stores as much as possible, whether that’s events or negotiating about terms and payments,” Kim said. “The key is communication and getting through these challenging times together.”
Stretch offerings are a big component of Hudson’s men’s line, with 70 to 80 percent of sales in stretch styles. While skinny fits tend to get the most editorial attention these days, straight legs are still the best-selling style at Hudson, followed by a boot fit.
“It depends on geography and channel,” Kim added. “In department stores, there’s a balance between a relaxed boot and the straight leg. In specialty stores, you see more straight leg. The skinny is a much smaller piece of our business for the fashion consumer.”
Top 10 Men’s Jeans Brands By Sales
4. Calvin Klein
9. Polo/Ralph Lauren
10. Sean John
*Includes all Levi’s labels