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Can Stretch Denim Get Homebound Consumers Out of Their Sweatpants?

With New York, California and a growing number of state ordering “non-essential workers” to stay home in recent days  and cities like San Francisco and Chicago under “shelter in place” mandates, the act of getting dressed for many means rolling out of bed in pajamas or sweats—which may mean bad news for denim.

A new report by retail data analytics firm Edited examines how the denim sector could be impacted by this new normal created by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Though the denim category experienced a downturn from 2014-2016 when athleisure and comfort became the center of fashion, denim has enjoyed gains thanks to new sustainable products, the popularity of nostalgic designs and the rise of the streetwear movement. However, Edited warns that work-from-home efforts to “mitigate risk” around the coronavirus could spark another disruption in denim.

“While retailers’ supply chains may be compromised as coronavirus continues to affect arrivals, it’s essential to maintain an aura of newness to keep consumers engaged,” Edited wrote.

Denim started the year on an optimistic note. New arrivals of denim increased 2 percent compared to the same period last year.

“Analyzing new arrivals of men’s and women’s jeans, leggings and sweatpants arriving online since the start of the year until now across major retailers in the U.S. and U.K. show denim is still the dominant style,” Edited stated.

Sweatpants, however, are gaining momentum. New arrivals of the athleisure bottom increased 12 percent compared to last year, Edited reported. Additionally, majority SKU sell-outs of sweatpants during this quarter outpaced both jeans and leggings with a 115 percent increase year-over-year.

“While there is a huge demand for sweats and joggers as customers embrace their new working lifestyles, it doesn’t mean retailers should be halting their denim promotions or trimming assortments,” Edited wrote.

Though denim in recent seasons has seen a return to vintage (or vintage-inspired) 100 percent cotton jeans, and a host of workwear silhouettes that require structured fabrications, this newfound need for comfort signals a new opportunity for denim with stretch properties.

The majority of SKU sellouts of women’s stretch jeans rose 23 percent year over year. These styles, Edited said, are “low-risk investments to refresh your denim promotions during these uncertain times.”

And major denim players like J Brand, Madewell and Topshop are taking note. Each company recently highlighted comfort denim in their recent denim communications to consumers.