NEW YORK — From Fubu and Lady Enyce to Rocawear and Baby Phat, the urban crowd can’t seem to get enough denim.
The urban market is filled with more than $6 billion in spending power. Driven by the hitmakers in hip-hop music, consumers can’t seem to get enough of not only what Jay-Z and J.Lo are singing, but what they are wearing, as well. Since jeans are such staples in their wardrobes, denim winds up accounting for about 20 percent of what almost every urban brand offers.
Even the newer companies in this market are beginning to catch on. For Eve, the rapper who just launched her own junior line called Fetish for fall retailing, it’s important to have denim as a staple.
“I want to do something different with denim,” she told WWD while waiting for last season’s Baby Phat show to begin during Fashion Week. “I’m not sure what it will be just yet, but I want to make jeans that fit everyone’s body.”
That seems to be the common theme for urban brands.
Take Passion by P. Miller, for example. For the new junior line from hip-hop mogul Master P, which launches for fall retailing, denim based was the way to go.
“The urban customer wants to be stylish, hip and sexy, and we felt that denim was the best way to cover all of these avenues,” said Mitchell Quaranta, president and chief operating officer of Swat Fame, the licensee for Passion. “It’s easy to use denim to make the customer look sexy, as well as street.”
While the fabric may be slowing a bit in other areas, Quaranta said that for Passion there is no slowdown in sight. The company also produces junior and children’s sportswear label Speechless, as well as the LEI children’s collection. Quaranta said the Passion collection is about 40 percent denim bottoms.
“This isn’t your basic five-pocket business,” he said. “What they want from us is fashion denim.”
They also want value, he said. So, within the first Passion line is black denim with rhinestone logo belts and floral embroidered low-rise jeans. Quaranta expects sales to reach $12 million to $15 million within the first year at retail.Baby Phat, run under the creative direction of Kimora Lee Simmons, began as a denim-based company. While it still remains this way, marketing director Michelle Perez said for the past couple of seasons stores were asking for fashion tops and T-shirts, as well as heavily embellished fashion denim. Now, with the back-to-school season right around the corner, Perez is seeing a slight change and stores want more denim.
“The stores started to want more fashion from us,” she said. “If they wanted jeans they wanted them to be anything but basic. They were to be heavily embellished and washed.”
Perez said the company will offer a special gift with purchase for the upcoming holiday season. With a purchase of the “Kimora jeans,” which Perez said are still being finalized, at $110 retail, the customer will receive a free CD of Simmons’ first single, “A Million.”
“She’s been really serious about this,” Perez said. “We thought the CD with the jeans would be a great way to promote the clothes. Also, Kimora really wanted to do this to offer something special to her customers.”
The JLo by Jennifer Lopez customer also seems to want fashion denim from the brand.
“Our basics have been very strong since the beginning,” said Denise Seegal, president and chief executive officer of the brand. “I am hearing of this back-to-basics trend happening, but for us, it isn’t as basic. In fact it is very novel, with stretch being very important, as well as specialized rinses and washes.”
While Rocawear is planning for a $500 million business, the company has made the majority of its money by selling the popular athletic-inspired track suits and logo T-shirts. While it will still offer these items, the company is testing a small collection of denim jeans within its core collection of merchandise. According to Minji Lee, designer of Rocawear juniors, the jeans are doing well at retail and the company will continue to offer them.
“Denim is now very important for us,” Lee said. “It’s selling very well. I am working to make our denim authentic. Everything’s been done in jeans, so its going to be a real challenge to offer the customer something different.”Since Rocawear’s strength is in athletic-inspired clothing, she said she plans to put a great deal of that inspiration into the jeans.
“They are jeans with a sexy fit and athletic inspiration,” she said. “That’s what Rocawear is all about.”
Daphne Pappas, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for juniors, sportswear and dresses at Macy’s East agreed that, while urban denim is a new category for the company, what they do carry so far has been strong.
She said as far as the basics go, the Rocawear “Flame” denim has been a consistent seller in both jeans and jackets. Also, Ecko Red’s stretch jeans are performing in the basics category.
As far as fashion jeans go, Pappas pointed out the strength in Pepe Jeans’ assortment.
“Pepe’s fashion denim with tons of details and logos perform at $82,” she said.
For Ecko Red, the women’s division of Marc Ecko’s Ecko Unlimited, denim is an important piece of the puzzle, with the category gaining strength each season.
“Being that I have only been in the business for 10 years total (four in women’s), from my point of reference, it is only getting stronger,” Ecko said.
But Ecko said he knows that with each season, the customer is becoming more educated about the fabric.
“I do see it cleaning up and being more nuance-based in the styling, fabric, finish and fit,” he said. “The customer is highly educated on denim compared to just four years ago. They understand the intrinsic value in owning a jean with a signature back pocket or yoke. They recognize brands for their certain fit and stick with them or avoid them on that basis.”
Also strongly believing in the power of denim is Akdmks, the first women’s line from Akademiks. According to Donwan Harrell, president and creative director of both lines, denim speaks for about 50 percent of the business. He said retailers have been asking for more than just denim from them, but it still accounts for a large part of the business.
“Denim is extremely strong in the urban market,” Harrell said. “However, there is a trend toward more sophisticated fabrics, such as canvas and twill, which, when used, produce the same wash effects that we apply to denim.”On average, the urban customer is curvaceous, so Harrell said stretch in denim is important.
“We design denim to meet and fit every figure, whether slim or curvaceous,” he said. “We mostly use stretch fabrics, which gives more of a desirable fit. Our varied washing techniques and treatments are also very important, but the key is the stretch denim.”
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