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Don’t Count Out Back-to-School Jeans—Yet, Says American Eagle Exec

Denim brands are tapping into the popularity of TikTok and other digital tools to engage young consumers during this untraditional back-to-school. Among those is American Eagle, which debuted a campaign featuring TikTok personality Addison Rae and a host of new stretch denim styles, including women’s Dream jeans—a jegging fit that boasts lifting and four-way stretch components—and the men’s Airflex+, which offers an authentic look with a high level of stretch.

A favorite jeans brand among Gen Z consumers, the mall staple is a “brand of choice” for back-to-school consumers, said Chad Kessler, American Eagle executive vice president and global brand president, on the company’s earnings call Wednesday.

The annual shopping season is a consistent highlight in American Eagle’s financial and promotional calendar during normal years, but the teen-centric brand is admittedly feeling the effects of inconsistent and delayed school openings across the U.S.

“Back-to-school definitely started later,” Kessler said. “It started later across the country and we saw demand start later. That impacted both Q2 and the beginning of Q3.”

American Eagle revenue declined 26 percent in the quarter, following a 1 percent slip in the year-ago quarter. Digital revenue rose 47 percent in the quarter.

The company, however, is noticing peaks in markets as school openings roll out. And as American Eagle gets past those peak time periods, Kessler said demand is returning to a “much healthier level.”

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“This is the time of year that the Northeast goes back to school and we’re seeing business return to more normal levels there,” he added.

As the curve flattens out, Kessler said American Eagle is hopeful that demand will carry into September in a stronger way than what it has seen in the past. “That really gives us optimism through the quarter as back-to-school continues,” he said.

And despite headlines that claimed denim will be a quarantine fashion casualty, Kessler said American Eagle’s comps in jeans are improving overall. Jeans, shorts, T-shirts and swimwear were leading online categories during the quarter.

“We’ve been gaining share in our signature category of jeans,” he said. “We’re not walking away from a lot of great short-term opportunities in soft dressing and comfortable dressing, but it’s really nice to see the jeans business see healthy trends as we get through back-to-school as well.”

Though tops are poised to be an important growth area for American Eagle in 2021, Jay Schottenstein, American Eagle Outfitters executive chairman and CEO, maintained that the company is dedicated to being a leader in the jeans and bottoms categories.

“The team is hard at work building on that strength, improving product lines and managing customer choices more effectively,” he said.