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Why It’s Better to Be in the Business of Denim Than Sweats Right Now

Bluer skies are ahead for the global denim market, according to a new market report from Edited.

With its global market valued expected to reach $26 billion by 2026, jeans have “officially usurped sweatpants” and have become a product of intrigue for millennial and Gen Z consumers, the retail analytics firm reported.

What a difference a year makes for an apparel category nearly upended by the demand for loungewear while consumers waited out Covid-19 from home. But nearly 18 months later, with no clear end to the pandemic in sight, consumers appear to be growing tired of their redundant at-home routine.

Women’s sweatpants account for 7 percent of new arrivals—a “far cry” from its position a year ago when it accounted for 12 percent of bottom arrivals. In comparison, women’s jeans are 17 percent of overall bottoms, up from last year at 15 percent and 2019 at 16 percent. There’s also a higher percentage of new sweat styles reduced across the market compared to jeans (40 percent versus 32 percent), which Edited pointed out may mean that new fleece arrivals “aren’t quite hitting the mark.”

Straight shooters

Straight is the new skinny. Though the market is opening up to various fits, from baggy to bootcut, Edited said straight silhouettes are the “new go-to” and comprise 20 percent of recent sell outs in the U.S. and U.K. Meanwhile, skinny jeans accounted for 14 percent of sell outs.

Despite the shift in leg shape, the popularity of high-waisted jeans hasn’t relented. High-rise jeans account for 36 percent of the jeans selling out in the past three months

While recent data from global fashion search platform Lyst revealed budding interest in low-rise jeans, Edited remains cautious about the midriff-baring silhouette. Despite tastemakers like Rihanna and Bella Hadid flaunting them as of late, the firm says low-rise jeans have seen just a 11 percent year-over-year increase and are “earmarked as a direction trend for the more risk-taking consumer.”

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Trends to watch

Other Y2K trends are in the early stages. Baggy jeans, vintage washes and “trouser tassels” are among the trends Edited expects to gain steam next spring.

Closer to market, Edited said to look for more Western-inspired designs to filter into mainstream fashion, or in the case of Beyonce’s Ivy Park “Rodeo” denim collection with Adidas, activewear. “Not only is the range a cultural statement as an ode to the Black cowboy, [but it also] expertly blurs the lines of denim, lounge and streetwear by spotlighting comfort—the underpinning theme of this category’s future,” Edited said about the collection.

Beyonce and Adidas reunited on Ivy Park Rodeo, leaning on dark-wash denim, streetwear and Western motifs to tell the story of Black cowboys.
Ivy Park Rodeo Courtesy

Trend-driven denim brands are already reaping the rewards of cowboy style. Bootcut jeans experienced high sell outs at Zara, Edited reported. The style was also the focal point in Good American’s recent campaign bearing the tagline, “The bootcut is back with fresh urban cowgirl energy.”

Sustainability gap

The relentless work that fiber producers, mills, finishing technology firms and chemical companies have poured into minimizing the industry’s environmental impact is paying off. Compared to 2019, when just 16 percent of pre-pandemic denim assortments were considered sustainable, Edited said 39 percent of products in the market have had a “sustainable transformation.” But considering the “ethical and environmental effects of denim,” Edited said it’s still not enough.

Common themes are emerging in the types of sustainable denim in the market, including “closing the loop.” The number of jeans made with recycled materials and components have increased 440 percent since 2019. During the same period, denim made in partnership with the Better Cotton Initiative climbed 345 percent, and 109 percent more jeans are made with finishing techniques that require less or no water.

The use of bio-based materials is also rising, Edited stated, with the number of Tencel options stocked at stores up 96 percent since 2019.

Better for the environment doesn’t mean better for everyone, however. Though companies large and small are rejiggering their fit and merchandising strategies to become more size inclusive, Edited said only 9 percent of available plus-size jeans use alternatives to conventional cotton and 3 percent of styles are described as “recycled.”