PINEHURST, N.C. — American consumers’ voracious appetite for denim is good news for fashion and apparel across the board, said experts at Cotton Incorporated’s Denim & Bottomswear Conference.
“People are very comfortable indulging themselves with apparel,” said Arthur Spar, vice president of NPD Group’s Fashionworld, during the three-day conference here that ended Wednesday.
That signals a shift in consumer sentiment regarding apparel, said Spar, noting that after the 2001 terrorist attacks apparel spending tended to be based on meeting needs rather than desires.
“Clothing is not a commodity right now, it’s a fashion item,” Spar said.
Data from 12,000 participants in NPD’s AccuPanel program showed that the 25- to 35-year-old consumer is driving trends. Since 2002, denim has been the apparel indulgence of choice for both men and women.
Women bought 80 million pairs of jeans in 2004 compared with 70 million in 2002, according to NPD. The average number of jeans bought per buyer rose to 3.5 from 3.1 during that time period. Denim’s share of the bottoms market expanded to 46 percent in 2004 from 43 percent in 2002. But the growth has not translated into lower sales of other bottoms categories.
“Women’s consumption is up across all categories,” Spar said.
The specialty store is the environment of choice for women in the 25- to 34-year-old age range, with 25 percent listing specialty stores as the place where they do most of their shopping. Department stores came in second at 15 percent.
“It’s not only because of the product, but because of the atmosphere,” Spar said.
While the women’s denim market continues to post solid growth, the men’s market is experiencing the quickest expansion. According to NPD’s statistics, men bought 71 million pairs of jeans in 2004 compared with 60 million in 2002. Men are purchasing more jeans than any other type of bottom. Jeans claimed a 56 percent share of the bottoms market in 2004, up from 49 percent in 2002, NPD said.
“This is coming out of the hide of casual pants,” said Spar, noting that the casual pants market has remained flat.
Mark Messura, vice president of strategic planning for Cotton Inc., presented an overview of the premium jeans market — the smallest but fastest-growing denim segment. The presentation focused on the results of a Cotton Inc. survey of 1,000 people who bought jeans for $70 and up, and defined who the premium buyer is, why they buy and where they buy.
Not surprisingly, women make up 78 percent of premium buyers and men 22 percent. However, while 25- to 34-year-olds are driving the overall apparel market, premium jeans sales are being propelled by an older demographic.
“It’s not simply young people driving the premium jeans,” said Messura, pointing out that the largest group of consumers, at 30.3 percent, were between the ages of 35 and 45. The second largest age group were 25 to 34-year-olds at 27.7 percent, while 16- to 24-year-olds represented 12.2 percent of buyers.
Denim priced at more than $60 experienced a 138 percent growth rate in 2004, which Messura attributed to the obsessive traits of the premium consumer. “These buyers are denim lovers,” he said.
The premium denim consumer bought 10 pairs of jeans on average last year, Messura said, while the average consumer purchased only three.
Brand loyalty disappears in the premium arena, taking a distant back seat to fit. Asked why they bought premium denim, 85 percent said getting a better fit was the biggest reason.
“If fashion is the lure, fit is the hook,” Messura said.
The types of activities for which premium jeans are being worn offers further evidence that buyers have relatively little interest in making a fashion statement, with 80 percent saying they wore them for hanging around the house and 90 percent saying they wore them for going to dinner or shopping. There are limits to the obsession apparently, with less than 20 percent saying premium jeans were good for church or weddings.
The online retail channel has also displayed growth.
“There’s a big chunk buying their jeans on the Internet, which is surprising when you consider the importance of fit,” Messura said.
Those simply looking to ride the rising denim tide are setting themselves up for failure, said Simon Williams, president and chief executive officer of brand developer Sterling Group, who presented 10 rules of branding in today’s market.
Williams said that now more than ever, regardless of product, manufacturers must understand how brands fit in their consumers’ lives.
“Brands that influence culture sell more,” he said. “It’s no longer good enough to understand your consumer. You have to understand the world in which they live.”
Williams stressed innovation as the key to lasting success.
“The more you get involved with culture and research, the more you can avoid fads,” he said. “If in doubt, don’t react.”