The first years of the new millennium have been a boom time for jeans com- panies.With designers sending denim down the runways,hipsters wearing jeans out to the clubs and plenty of hop- pers trading up into $100 dungarees,the category has eemed unstoppable.

The women ’s jeans category continued to grow this year,posting a 6.7 percent increase in ales for the first nine months, according to NPDFashionworld Consumer. In 2001,full-year ales came to $4.8 billion. If the category ustains its growth rate through the fourth quarter,that means total U.S.women ’s jeans ales this year are like- ly to pass the $5 billion mark.

But a lot of companies have jumped into the denim game in the past few years and the competition is intensifying.The trend cycle has also accelerated and over the past year,designers seem to have been scrambling for any idea they could find, from new washes and additional detailing and embellishment to belts and scarves a included accessories.

Today,more denim lines are offering products in alternate fabrics,cutting cor- duroy and traditional twill in five-pocket looks.It ’s a contingency plan as many in the market become increasingly nervous that consumers ’ardor for the category may be easing off.

One of the reasons executives are anx- ious is that as consumers have avidly snapped up more jeans than usual in recent years,they ’ve slowly filled their closets with denim.According to industry statistics,the average American woman now owns more than seven pairs of jeans — more jeans than there are days in the week.That,and the industry adage that no category remains in the fashion spotlight forever,has executives looking for backup merchandise.

Still,jeans executives are by no means in a panic.Since Bavarian immigrant Levi Strauss patented riveted denim pants —he called them "waist overalls "—in 1873, jeans have remained a staple of the U.S. wardrobe.Demand picks up and slows down,but jeans vendors agreed that jeans sales never grind to a tandstill.

Companies are preparing for the next down cycle expected for the sector.They ’re continuing to crank out new trends to keep consumers spending,but also tightening up on costs,harpening production,fine-tun- ing their advertising strategies and prepar- ing for a battle in the year ahead.

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