DENIM: BASICALLY SPEAKING

Byline: JANET OZZARD

Fashion may not have been big news in denim last year, but the major companies saw solid sales and double-digit growth — almost all of which came from the basic five-pocket business that continues to dominate the market.
Manufacturers, from designer names to mass, weren’t complaining — basic five-pockets sold well during 1994, enough to cause a 7 percent unit increase in sales of women’s jeans through September, according to NPD, the industry data group based in Port Washington, N.Y.
But while the basics were healthy, denim manufacturers also have an eye out for some long-term changes in their industry, including retail consolidation and international expansion. In planning for growth over the next few years, company execs said they were looking to a few areas to keep business growing. Among them:
Subtle product changes, such as new washes, finishes and fit.
A continued strong shorts business that’s managed to cure a spring sales slump.
Merchandising denim with related items such as knit and woven tops under the same name.
Denim items, such as skirts, shirts, vests and jackets.
Licensing deals that broaden the appeal of a strong denim name.
Linda Elton, president of Sasson Licensing Corp., said one of the reasons she’s taking the company to MAGIC is to spread the word that Sasson is branching out to new categories.
“We’re in the midst of expanding our program in ladies’ sportswear, to get away from just being denim, so WWD/MAGIC affords us the opportunity to present a new face,” she said, noting that the company has signed knitwear and woven licenses recently, and will be introducing a line of casual slacks soon.
In fact, at the mass level, there is a new interest from the retailers in developing brand awareness and getting exclusive brand names. While price remains the key element, brand awareness is making more and more inroads as even mass retailers see marketing and advertising taking on a vital role.
The denim market is still heavily price- and promotion-driven at almost every level, which took its toll on some more high-end companies this year. Companies found they had to lower prices on their core five-pocket styles to make them attractive to a choosy consumer. The magic number now, it seems, is under $40 retail.
And with retailers getting ever more demanding, every denim company is scrambling to stay on top of inventory and demand with Quick Response and other electronic data systems.
Some manufacturers say they do see a few trends emerging for 1995. One is the return of the tight jeans with a little spandex mixed in, which will become more predominant in the junior market.
To combat the inevitable retail consolidation here, some of the biggest names in denim manufacturing are turning to opening their own stores, both here and abroad.
In fact, international expansion figures large in most denim companies’ strategies for this year. Whether through their own stores or wholesale sales, expansion abroad will increase throughout 1995, showing that there’s still a healthy appetite for American branded denim apparel abroad.

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