Skip to main content

Denim Brands Made a ‘Covid Pivot’ Into New Categories in 2021

Trend forecasters and denim CEOs alike have pointed to 2021 as the year of the denim boom. Casualization trends inspired by 2020’s lockdowns, coupled with Gen Z’s skinny jeans takedown, opened up a new world of possibilities in the denim space. From lounging around at home to heading out for a night on the town, jeans have remained a go-to garment for a range of activities.

The increased opportunities for denim led a number of brands to engage in what WGSN head of retailing and buying Sidney Morgan-Petro describes as the “Covid pivot,” in which previously apparel-focused brands expanded into other categories that intersect with apparel, such as beauty, home goods and wellness. Though a “pivot” might be seen as a businesssaving strategy during a period of distress, this shift can also help companies diversify their offerings during times of success.

“Consumer priorities have shifted, and brands are shifting alongside them, whether that means matching pet-and-me accessories, yoga mats that coordinate with your activewear, or loungewear that coordinates with soft interior goods like throw pillows and blankets,” Morgan-Petro told Rivet.

Home goods such as tableware and barware were seen as a golden opportunity for brands looking to make a successful year that much more lucrative. Wrangler kicked off 2021 with a home goods venture alongside Pottery Barn Teen in a move that Steve Armus, Kontoor Brands’ vice president of global partnership and licensing, always considered to be “top of mind.” The collection included curtains, tapestries, lounge sectionals and loveseats, bean bag chairs, quilts and shams, duvet covers, storage bins, sheets and rugs.

Related Story

Around that same time, Levi’s debuted its first-ever home decor collection in partnership with Target. The collection included more than 100 items, with standout pieces like selvedge-inspired dishes, bandana-print pillows and quilted blankets. Items carried Levi’s same sustainability focus, demonstrated by the use of recycled glass, and Fair Trade USA, Goodweave and FSC Wood certifications. The range offered more sustainable certifications and claims than any past Target limited-time-only design collaboration.

Denim’s success inspired many denim brands to try their luck in other categories, including home, activewear and footwear.
Target x Levi’s Courtesy

“With more consumers spending time at home—to work, exercise, entertain, etc.—there’s less focus on what to wear out and about, and more of a need for items that work well across multiple end-uses and provide ultimate versatility,” Morgan-Petro said.

While home was a focus for brands and consumers alike, the outdoors also gained traction. The pandemic inspired many to flock to nature as a form of escape, triggering an uptick in hiking, biking fishing and other outdoor activities—and giving the outerwear space a massive boost. Retail analytics firm Edited pointed to clear opportunities for both categories, stating that women’s jackets made up 9 percent of product in stock, yet accounted for 13 percent of sellouts in December 2020. Wrangler doubled down on its outdoors offering, expanding its All-Terrain Gear (ATG) line and teasing Wrangler Angler, a fishing-focused line launching in 2022.

For these same reasons, activewear has been another category on close watch. U.K-based market research firm Euromonitor International estimated that the global activewear market topped $200 billion in 2020, causing retailers and brands to strategize how they could get involved. In August, Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) acquired size-inclusive activewear label Beyond Yoga for an undisclosed sum in a move that’s expected to contributing more than $100 million to the company’s net revenue in fiscal 2022.

Once seen as a “threat” to the denim space, activewear is now a source of inspiration—and even a partner—for many denim brands, according to Maria Rugolo, apparel industry analyst at The NPD Group.

“The jeans industry has always been on the forefront of innovation and when faced with threats from other categories like activewear, denim was ready to pivot and reinvent its offerings,” she said.

Footwear has become another natural extension for denim brands, as the category attracts consumers looking to get more active. NPD’s recent “Future of Footwear” report indicated that revenue growth within the performance- and outdoor-footwear categories will outperform the growth in the overall footwear market through 2023.

Specialty denim retailer Abercrombie & Fitch ventured into footwear with an exclusive partnership with Zappos that featured seven styles of fall-ready boots, booties, open-toe heels and sneakers in women’s sizes 6-15. The move followed size inclusive denim brand Good American’s venture into footwear in December 2020.

NYDJ's footwear collection
NYDJ’s footwear collection Courtesy

NYDJ also bowed is first women’s footwear collection after 18 years in business. The 9-piece collection, available in sizes 5-11, offers versatile casual and dress silhouettes like flatform sneakers, slides, loafers and block-heel sandals in suede, leather and novelty fabrications, including black denim.

Though sneakers have dominated conversations in the footwear category for years, Edited noted that party footwear gained traction as people ventured out after a period of isolation.

Occasionwear is similarly growing in popularity and inspiring brands to consider more formal attire. In August, Abercrombie & Fitch debuted an apparel line for wedding guests in partnership with digital wedding planning platform The Knot. The “Best Dressed Guest” collection included 52 styles for men and women spanning suits, jumpsuits and dresses.

According to Carey Krug, the company’s vice president of marketing, the line answers the call of its target consumers “as they return to celebrating these wonderful life moments that were so greatly missed.”