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Denim Boom Points to New Pricing Opportunities

Despite Gen Z’s focused efforts, skinny jeans are far from over. New data from retail analytics platform StyleSage indicates that, while the body-hugging silhouette isn’t as popular as it once was, the style continues to outperform its looser counterparts. According to Elizabeth Shobert, vice president of marketing and digital strategy at StyleSage, skinny jeans will “likely never be dead.”

The report positions skinny jeans as the most popular silhouette by a landslide—they represent 3.5 times as many searches as straight fits, the second most popular denim silhouette for women.

But while skinnies will always be a wardrobe staple, looser fits are making their way into women’s wardrobes. Kendall Becker, StyleSage contributor, confirmed what many brands and trend forecasters have considered to be a new cycle for denim: Women are showing a piqued interest in baggy and relaxed styles.

StyleSage indicated that for women, flared styles like those that were most popular in the ‘70s and again in the ‘00s have returned to the forefront, with a year-over-year increase of 131 percent in searches.

And it’s not just women who are warming up to looser fits. Retail market intelligence platform Edited reported that, in December 2020, sellouts of men’s relaxed and straight fits were up 15 percent and 13 percent year-over-year, respectively.

StyleSage showed that women’s ripped jeans, a beloved grunge style that traverses decades, are down 32 percent since last year. Searches for boyfriend jeans are also on the decline, but not because they’re losing steam. According to Becker, it’s because consumers are becoming more educated on terminology surrounding looser fits.

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“What’s interesting here is that these relaxed fits are on the rise, but consumers are getting more familiar with them and are able to identify [exactly what kind of looser fit they’re looking for],” she said, noting that they’re now more likely to search specifically for a flare or wide leg as opposed to an all-encompassing term like “boyfriend jeans.”

And while classic brands such as Levi’s are seeing impressive quarters with notable sales, they’re lagging in searches. Instead, the firm noted that the most frequently searched labels are trend-forward retailers like Zara, body-positive brands like Good American and Y2K revival labels like Miss Me. The brands and retailers most willing to “take risks” in terms of styling are finding the most success, Becker said.

Zara has been at the forefront of the loose denim cycle, with its colorful high-rise wide legs causing a commotion online. The term “Zara jeans” collected a whopping 49,000 weekly searches, up 35 percent from the same time last year, according to trend forecasting firm Trendalytics.

Though high-rise styles like Zara’s viral denim continue to reign supreme, the Y2K reboot is signaling the return of a lower rise. According to StyleSage, low-rise jeans are up 100 percent in searches year over year, with brands such as Free People, Revice and Rag & Bone teasing the resurgence. Outside of silhouettes, details such as colorblocking, patchwork and prints are on the rise.

As denim’s new cycle currently bodes well for almost every fit and rise, there could be opportunities to not just avoid discounting, but to increase prices. To help elevate the brand and increase gross margins, Levi’s increased pricing by about 5 percent across all geographies and channels in Q2 2021.

“Now is the time for retailers to really get smart,” Shobert said. “You need to get your discounting and your supply aligned as best you can.”

The firm’s data showed that discounting peaked in summer 2020 and has slowed since the early days of the pandemic. Overall, jeans were less likely to be marked down than other apparel categories at department stores. Of the discounted denim, skinny jeans were the most likely of all fits to be marked down.

Looking ahead, Shobert advises against discounting, and encourages retailers to take advantage of the denim boom.

“Where could you possibly increase prices, instead of making this about the race to the bottom to lower your prices?” she said. “Think about where you can best deliver that great value to your customers instead of just making it about the lowest price possible.”