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NPD: US Denim Sales Climb as the Industry Places Priority on Comfort

After learning some harsh lessons about the apparel market when athleisure started soaking up sales, the denim industry is on the rise in the United States.

For the year ending in July 2018, the U.S. jeans market produced $16.4 billion in sales—a 5 percent increase year-over-year. Women’s denim was the big winner this year, with a 9 percent increase in sales over the same time frame.

Rather than an exception to the trend toward comfort in apparel, rising denim sales are a reaction to it. Designers have begun incorporating athleisure concepts like softer fabrics and stretchy fits into denim and the results have been positive so far, according to a new report from the NPD Group.

“Jeans have always offered form, fashion, and function but now they are offering the comfort today’s consumers want,” Marshal Cohen, NPD chief industry advisor, said.  “It’s a win-win for consumers, jeans manufacturers, and retailers.”

Although the growth can and should be attributed to innovations in style and comfort, sales of both new and classic styles are up. The ever-present skinny jean remains the best-selling style in women’s jeans and saw its share of the market increase by 6 percent to a 40 percent total market share.

The rising popularity of the skinny jean can likely be explained by the trend towards incorporating athleisure features, like those mentioned above, into the already-popular fit. Brands have introduced new materials that are capable of levels of stretch previously found only in activewear without sacrificing the traditional denim look, according to the NPD report.

Newer styles like the so-called “mom” jeans and trendy features like cropped flares and exaggerated cuffs are popular with teens and young adults.

Women still prefer the experience of trying on jeans in a physical store, with NPD reporting that only one in six purchased a pair of jeans through e-commerce during the period of the study. The report attributes the hesitancy of online consumers to the personal nature of an individual’s blue jean fit and the uncertainty that comes with buying jeans from an unfamiliar source.

“Let’s face it, we all have our favorite pairs of jeans,” Cohen explained. “The well-worn jeans we turn to like an old friend who envelops us with familiarity and relaxation; our work jeans, a step up from our well-worn jeans; and our fancy, special event jeans.  Jeans will never go out of style. They are an American classic.”