The Elevation of Denim

denimelevationIt is the Go-To for Going Out

Denim has seen its share of evolution in the 140-plus years since Levi Strauss started selling blue jean overalls. In its modern iteration, it may be the item of choice for the smart, stylish dresser. With the rise of “athleisure” in casual apparel, the denim category is becoming elevated, with designers showing it on their runways, and brands offering it in custom fits, new finishes, and looks that are geared for the club as well as the office.

The Rise of Denim in Workwear

Eric Goldstein, owner of Jean Shop, a bespoke denim store in Manhattan, says a big part of his business is for men who want denim for “going out” or for work. “We do a tremendous amount of raw denim, and you can wear that with a leather shirt or jacket on top,” Goldstein says. “Our typical customer is the more articulate man, like the banker who wants to look casual, but cool and clean. Denim is being worn to work everywhere — New York, London, and the financial world. It’s not just for casual Friday anymore. Part of the staple work wardrobe is dark, crisp jeans. Our customers come into our store specifically looking for it.”

Goldstein’s customers reflect data that show denim remains consumers’ top apparel choice for a variety of occasions, from work to going out to dinner to running errands. More than a third of all consumers (36 percent) prefer denim jeans for work, followed by casual and dress pants (27 percent each), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey. Men are significantly more likely than women to prefer denim for work (41 percent versus 32 percent).

WGSN’s junior’s editor, Sarah Owens, says denim has become an acceptable look in the workplace, especially given the premium options now available both in fit, finish, and feel. She says, “It’s quite common now for women to wear a pair of relaxed, boyfriend jeans with a tailored black blazer — creating a high/low aesthetic that has been circulating among Fashion Week street style trends for the past few years.”

Lorna Buford, editor of DenimBlog, says jeans are such a wardrobe staple that consumers will wear denim as a standard work item, unless they have to wear a uniform. “Plus, with the added comfort that jeans now have, it’s a bonus,” she says. Women have the option of pairing them with heels and a dressy jacket or smart sweater, while men just need to think “dark and neat.” AskMen advises male readers to leave their club denim with intricately stitched pockets at home.

The premium denim company DL1961 even has a category named “Office Denim” on its web store to help consumers make the right style choice for their particular job situation. The brand has also added to denim’s comfort factor by introducing lines like “hybrid” “intelligent,” and “DLX” denim that increases movement, retains shape, and even protects from odor-causing bacteria.

“The other direction we see denim headed is a workwear story with raw constructions in rich indigo reworking classic silhouettes in more elongated fits,” Owens says. “This has also been executed in black to give a more contemporary touch to workwear themes.”

On the Streets to on the Go

As favored as denim is for work, it’s preferred even more for shopping or running errands (61 percent), according to Monitor statistics. That’s distantly followed by casual pants (15 percent), athletic pants/shorts (10 percent), shorts (7 percent), and leggings (5 percent).

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Of course, the idea of looking fashion forward when shopping or running around town with the kids was made popular by celebrities. Whether it’s Jessica Alba pushing her baby carriage or Justin Timberlake grabbing a coffee, the look is about the right jeans paired with the right shoes and accessories. That may be why more than four in 10 consumers (41 percent) say they prefer to wear denim jeans when they want to look and feel good in an outfit, followed by casual bottoms (20 percent) and dress pants (17 percent), according to the Monitor data.

Of course, looking good is important when going out to dinner, and denim is also the top apparel choice among both men and women combined (37 percent), the Monitor survey shows. That’s followed by casual pants (26 percent), dress pants (17 percent), dresses (11 percent) and skirts (4 percent) for women, and athletic pants/shorts (2 percent).

“The demand for denim in a more formal or ‘going out’ setting has been increasingly apparent, even before the athleisure trend started to gain momentum,” Owens says.

Buford says she sees both men and women wearing denim in a dressier setting. “I still see people wearing their favorite black or indigo blue skinny jeans with heels and blazers — those are popular for going out.”

Denim Hits the Runways

More denim is also being shown in current designer collections. “The designers really promoted denim on the runways for pre-fall and pre-spring,” says the Doneger Group’s fashion director, Roseanne Morrison. “There’s been a ’70s vibe with the flare leg, the one-piece denim coverall, denim dresses. There’s also been some ’80s styles with the high waist and baggier fit. So it’s a new collection of denim looks that are coming out. We’re also seeing some lighter washes and original indigo without stretch,” she adds.

Owens says the runway has had an influence on the denim category, giving it a wider, dressier appeal. Men and women will continue to see it as more of a “going out” item, she says, “as we enter into the more premium aesthetic that is currently being influenced by current catwalk and trade show trends. From the catwalks, we have been seeing denim take on a more premium aesthetic, with elevated and glossy constructions on more sophisticated pieces such as the tailored denim set at Rag & Bone, Bottega Veneta, and Michael Kors.” Owens continues, “This new renaissance for the denim market gives it a polished identity originally established back in spring/summer 2011 by designers such as Celine and Derek Lam.”

501 Ascending

Levi’s is the originator of denim jeans. At the last National Retail Federation show in New York, James Curleigh, Levi’s global president, said the company is focusing on its core, but “going for more.” “There’s this notion of should you just do what is expected or should you do more?” he said. “Well, guess what? We’re going to do both.”

Levi’s is still the worldwide leader in denim. In fact, it tops the list of favorite brands of denim jeans among Monitor survey respondents at 32 percent. Levi’s is continuing its traditional 501 jean, and last month introduced the 501 CT (Customized & Tapered) line. The 501 CT is offered in a range of authentic denim washes inspired by San Francisco and California style, the home of Levi’s and the original 501 jean.

The brand is also expanding both high and wide. At the high end, it’s offering its $750 Lot 1 custom, made-to-measure jeans. At the same time, its Commuter Series, featuring reflective seaming and U-lock storage on the waistband, is one of its fastest-growing denim platforms. “Icons don’t remain icons forever unless you continue to innovate around them,” Curleigh said in his presentation.

Trend Tracking

At the recent PROJECT menswear show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, many denim brands were on display, including Anonymous Jeans of Los Angeles. This maker featured innovative styles such as a 100 percent cotton skinny fit jean with a sarouel drop -— à la the harem pant. Among the many vendors, buyers could also find denim with waxed and leather-look finishes, as well as jeans in a range of colors.

The evolution toward better finishes and different fits is important, especially as denim is the top apparel item among consumers (28 percent), for times when they want to “be stylish or fashionable,” according to the Monitor data. That’s followed by dress pants (25 percent) and casual pants (17 percent).

Those looks are right on time for today’s customer. “Denim is here to stay,” says Jean Shop’s Goldstein. “And in men’s, the classic 100 percent cotton denim is favored. It’s a product you wear your whole life. You can wear clean and crisp with a jacket and tie, and then three years later use it to paint the house or do some other DIY project. We collect jeans in the store. So people can wear their jeans for years, then trade them in when they buy a new pair. They become vintage. And they all tell a story. And with the new pair, the next story begins.”

Catherine Schetting Salfino
Fashion Retail Reporter

Catherine Schetting Salfino covers fashion and retail. Her work has appeared in the menswear
publications Daily News Record, Women’s Wear Daily, Saks POV, and the Sourcing Journal.

What’s Missing From Online Shopping

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Last year, US e-retail sales hit $263 billion, according to Forrester Research Inc., representing 8% of total retail sales. The company predicts that by 2018, e-retail will reach $414 billion. While it’s a staggering number, it will still only account for about 11% of total retail sales. So why is online shopping still such a small piece of the retail pie? According to research from Cotton Incorporated, there’s room for improvement online.

Browse Before Buying

Though the majority of purchases still occur in-store, online is quickly becoming the first stop for consumers looking to shop for apparel. According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey, 84% of consumers say they browse for clothing online using a computer or laptop, while 45% say they use a smart phone, 39% use a tablet, and 18% use a smart television.

“We’ve seen strong growth in the percentage of consumers who browse for clothing online using smartphones, tablets, and smart televisions, and we anticipate those numbers will continue to grow as they reflect the behavior of younger consumers who were raised with the technology and are increasingly comfortable with it,” says Kim Kitchings, Vice President, Corporate Strategy & Program Metrics, Cotton Incorporated.

Indeed, according to Forrester Research Inc., 69% of US adults who regularly purchase items online end up buying about 16% of their products through e-channels, and both numbers are expected to grow as so-called “digital natives,” or those consumers born in the early 2000s after the advent of digital technologies, continue to increase their spending power. [Read more…]

How Equinox Could Save Your Mall

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The Great Recession turned most US consumers into necessity-based shoppers, eliminating their need to spend a day or even an afternoon impulse shopping at the mall. But these changing demographics and shopping habits across the country have real estate developers getting creative – in some cases, by filling now-empty anchor stores with non-retail properties like fitness centers. Ironically, this emphasis on non-retail may be what woos consumers away from the convenience of online shopping and back to the mall.

Seventy-two percent of consumers say they prefer to buy separate apparel pieces at different stores, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey, compared to the 28% who would prefer to purchase everything in one place.

“That number has really remained consistent over the last several years, indicating that the very nature of malls still holds strong appeal among consumers even as the traditional anchor store model has become outdated,” says Kim Kitchings, Vice President, Corporate Strategy & Program Metrics, Cotton Incorporated. [Read more…]

Is Athletic Wear Poised to Usurp Denim?

CottonGirlsIn the US, the NPD Group reported US shoppers spent about $17 billion on denim in 2013, and the global jeans market is projected to reach $56 billion by 2018, according to research firm Global Industry Analysts, Inc. But some in the industry see athletic apparel as the one to beat. While denim remained almost flat, declining just 1% for the 12 months ending December 2013, activewear soared 9%. And the total apparel market was only up 2% over the same period. What’s happening here?

While some point to athletic apparel’s ubiquity – 92% of consumers wear it for activities other than exercise, up significantly from 87% in 2009, according to the Cotton Incorporated 2014 Sports Apparel Survey – a more complicated answer might lie in the fact that for denim shoppers, what’s being sold at retail isn’t living up to their standards.

“I think part of what’s challenging to denim brands right now is the ‘premiumization’ of yoga pants and the luxury ath-leisure sector essentially following denim’s own model for success,” says Shanna McKinnon, editor of DenimHunt.com. “But can yoga pants, even nice ones, really be as versatile as denim? I’m not so sure.”

For consumers, durability remains a key component of new clothing purchases. Yet data from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey has established many consumers are not happy with the denim they are getting at retail.

Indeed, the majority of consumers say they have experienced fading (67%) and wrinkling (51%) in their jeans, followed by wear & tear issues (50%), shrinking (49%), and lack of stretch recovery (49%), according to Monitor data. [Read more…]

Fabric Substitution Needles Home Textile Shoppers

Preference for Cotton Remains Paramount

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Housing starts and existing home sales are not only good economic indicators, but they are also strong predicators of future growth in other areas like home textiles. As the turnaround in the housing market gains steam, the home textiles market benefits – but consumers are increasingly paying higher prices for lower quality and less cotton-rich items, and they are not satisfied.

Textile World recently reported that housing starts could increase by as much as 15 to 20% over the course of 2014, despite the harsh winter, leading to potentially brisk business for the home textiles sector. While January building permits were 5.4% below the December rate, they were still 2.4% above the January 2013 estimate, according to the Department of Commerce, hinting at an upswing in the industry that could carry over to home textiles.

Cotton remains the favored fiber for home textiles like bedding and sheets; more than eight in 10 (81%) consumers prefer their sheeting to be made from cotton and cotton blends, and 75% of consumers prefer their bedding to be made from cotton and cotton blends, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey. But that’s not always evident at retail. [Read more…]

Seeking Transparency

Cotton Charts 05-2014-01

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How Sustainability Can Enhance Your Supply Chain

Has sustainability truly become part of our lexicon, or is it still just a buzzword? Today, most consumers expect products and their manufacturing processes to be sustainable; indeed, it’s part of the legacy of the original Earth Day, held more than 40 years ago. And while Millennials demand it, they’re not always willing to pay more for it. So how can the retail industry adapt?

“Research reveals price and style still top consumers’ lists of purchase drivers when shopping for apparel, though environmental-friendliness remains a draw,” says Kim Kitchings, Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Program Metrics, Cotton Incorporated. “When she buys something that looks great on her and is the right price for her budget, the item’s environmental-friendliness becomes a kind of added bonus.”

Indeed, data from the 2014 Cotton Incorporated Environment Survey support this; 98% of women say fit is the most important factor when making a clothing purchase, followed by comfort (97%), quality (95%), and price (95%). Nearly half (46%) of female consumers cited environmental-friendliness. [Read more…]

Reaching the Chinese Consumer

China continues to top the AT Kearney Retail Apparel Index, which shows the top 10 emerging countries viable for the retail sector. Strong growths in population and in income make it an increasingly attractive market for western brands looking to expand. Yet reaching the Chinese consumer poses unique challenges.

According to Euromonitor International, Chinese clothing expenditures are projected to nearly double within the next 10 years, from 1.2 trillion in 2012 to 2.2 trillion in 2020. Even in 2011, a year of slower than predicted growth, Chinese real GDP still amounted to 51.1 trillion RMB.

And while the Chinese population is expected to grow 2% by 2020, income growth will continue to outpace population growth — which means more consumers with more buying power. Per capita disposable income is expected to grow 75% between 2012 and 2020, according to projections made by Euromonitor International.

As the population continues to grow, though, it is also shifting towards more urban areas. This stands to benefit western retailers first expanding into larger cities, since urban consumers tend to spend more on discretionary purchases like apparel and textiles. [Read more…]

COTTON LEADS™ Us to the Promised Land

Robin-cotton-article_FINALAll-In for Planet Earth

As my readers know all too well, I usually write about significant strategic events that have noteworthy impact on both our industry and the larger canvas of life, so to speak. We at the Robin Report make it a point to not report “news,” but rather what the news means and why it matters.

That said, however, I came across some news that I felt was really part of a larger, important trend happening to all consumer-facing businesses.

So to get a perspective in this, let’s start at the beginning, and the genesis and driver of all things commercial: we humans. Human beings are by nature consumers. And as consumers, we’re never satisfied. We’re always trying to use our purchasing power to achieve increased levels of satisfaction, perceived or real.

Take apparel, for instance. A hundred years ago, we bought clothing principally for utilitarian reasons to cover our bodies and protect us from the elements. That pair of cotton dungarees may have been a little heavy and scratchy, and not too flattering, but it did the job.

But vanity and self-expression got the better of us. Pretty quickly, we took functionality for granted, and decided that the clothes we wore needed to be made of finer fabrics and look more attractive.

As the history of apparel evolved, the intrinsic properties of the product gradually took a back seat to the name and logo on the label. Calvin. Polo. True Religion. We didn’t buy clothing to cover our bodies anymore. In fact, as I’ve written about ad nauseum, we didn’t even really need another pair of jeans. We bought them for a zillion reasons, not the least of which was to project a certain image and lifestyle that we aspired to. We bought them to impress, “fit in” or “fit out” as outliers. I could write a whole book about why we buy clothes, but I’ll spare you for the moment.

All for One and One for All

So, in this world of abundant choice, immediate gratification, and 24/7 online shopping malls, what’s left? We have to admit that we have been living in the era of “It’s all about me.” We expect shopping experiences that just get better and better. We demand it from our retailers, online and off. We want an incredibly memorable experience co-created by ourselves and the retailer that will forever shape our perception of the store We can get that at a place like 3×1 in Soho and have a pair of bespoke jeans custom-made to fit perfectly. They’ll be made out of one of the hundreds of bolts of soft, shuttle-loom-woven selvedge denim they have in the store, and trimmed with hand-enameled buttons selected by moi. And speaking of bespoke, 3D printing today is just the tip of the iceberg.

Wow, we really have climbed a kind of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Consumption pyramid, haven’t we? We’ve moved from needing protection, to wanting quality, to aspiring to a lifestyle, to demanding an irresistible experience. What’s next, saving the planet?

How’d you guess?

The next frontier for consumers is to use their enormous purchasing power for good. Although various terms have been coined to describe the phenomenon – from conscious capitalism to cause-based shopping — the trend is real and growing. Financial services companies are offering mutual funds invested in socially conscious companies. Accessories makers like Thom’s shoes and Warby Parker eyewear are donating their products to people in developing countries, which is really resonating with consumers, judging from their meteoric sales growth. Large retailers are cutting their carbon footprint by managing energy levels, reducing product packaging, making sure their vendors use safe, responsible hiring practices, and even rewarding customers who bring their own bags. Gap gives a10% discount when you purchase their reusable bag and then use it for every visit. And to Millennials, this trend isn’t even trendy; it’s part of their ethos.

All For One Planet

And now, back to the news. Cotton – the king of raw materials – is taking the growing need for social and environmental consciousness all the way back to the farm.

Last week, our friends at Cotton Incorporated, along with their colleagues at Cotton Australia — two countries at the forefront of responsible cotton production — announced a program that will heighten awareness about responsible cotton growing practices in these two countries. Mark Messura, who leads the Global Supply Chain Marketing at Cotton Incorporated, said the initiative, called Cotton LEADS™, was developed in response to “growing downstream concern for upstream issues.”

Cotton LEADS™ is aimed at textile brands, retailers and manufacturers committed to sourcing cotton that is grown in a responsible and transparent manner. Validating the Cotton LEADS™ program will be the national-level oversight, regulatory enforcement, and transparency of practices currently underway in both countries. It will include both conventionally and organically grown cotton.

The positive change that will result from this system will be found in water and soil conservation, pesticide regulation, child protection, and workplace safety, and be continually measured and improved. It will do things like help farmers optimize irrigation and watering schedules, calculate precise fertilizer needs, detect viruses and other pests that decrease crop yields, and more.

Retailers and brands that want confidence and integrity in their supply chain and want to deliver high quality cotton products to their customers will become partners in Cotton LEADS™. It worked for the architectural and building industry with the USGBC LEED certification, so it should be a slam-dunk for apparel. Because these days, it’s not enough to be better, chicer, cheaper, and an impresario of an irresistible experience, it has to save the world, too. And that’s not cynicism talking, that’s good business practice.

Consumers Are Talking…Are Brands Listening?

The Robin Report

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Consumer Facts from Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™

Once consumers became comfortable purchasing apparel online, brands and retailers sought to enhance the experience through social media sharing options, crowdsourcing — and online customer comments sections. What may have begun as a means of increasing sales via search engine optimization has grown to be a barometer of what’s in and what’s out of favor with the buying public.

Customer Comments
Project Reveals Key Apparel Complaints

Cotton Incorporated set out to quantitatively measure these customer comments, and the result – the Cotton Incorporated Customer Comment Project – reveals what makes apparel consumers rant or rave about their purchases. [Read more…]

The Red, White & Blue – and Green

CottonplanetThe Cotton Incorporated 2013 Environmental Survey reveals that more than 50% of U.S. consumers identify themselves to be “green”. And, although participation in basic household environmentalism has shown only incremental growth, higher income consumers constitute a markedly greater level of engagement. Survey data indicate that personal income and larger economic concerns are changing the ways in which consumers perceive and participate in environmental activities. Several factors, including a significant increase in consumers’ pursuing apparel made in the U.S.A, and apparel made from natural fibers, suggests that these are emerging as new forms of environmental engagement.

“It is clear that consumers are aware and concerned about the environment,” says Kim Kitchings, VP of Corporate Strategies and Program Metrics at Cotton Incorporated, adding that the majority (60%) of survey respondents say that they often think how their actions affect the environment. “What is less clear to them is the cost of making a difference.”

Kitchings points to five years of data showing that participation in relatively low- or no-cost household environmentalism, including recycling, conserving water, and investing in energy-efficient appliances, is consistently greater among consumers with higher incomes. The divide is also seen in the 34% of consumers who say they put effort into finding environmentally-friendly apparel; that figure jumps to 40% among consumers making $75,000 or more per year. [Read more…]

Rules of Engagement

Cotton’s 24-Hour Runway Show and Push-Pull 2.0

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The retail universe has long-since expanded beyond the confines of physical floor space and time. Online retail outlets have made shopping a 24-hour option for brands with or without brick-and-mortar complements. Brand marketing, too, is now a brave new digital world in which presence and consumer engagement are essential cogs in the machine. To succeed, there must be a synchronicity of disparate channels that encompass traditional advertising, digital advertising, social media and most importantly, the often-unpredictable consumer.

Hyper-dimensional marketing, or Push-Pull 2.0, plucks multiple messaging strings in the hopes of striking a chord with consumers. In traditional push-and-pull strategy, push referred to offering incentives to the supply chain, and consumer marketing was the pull. Today, Facebook, Twitter and the like, have shifted the strategic emphasis squarely on the consumer; push is now defined as brand outreach to the consumer, and pull is their outreach to the brand. The objective is to enthusiastically engage the co

nsumer in the brand experience; to have them participate, promote, and eventually purchase. [Read more…]

Michael Kors – A Tale of Two Brands

MK_Charm-01I’ve long been a Michael Kors fan, buying gorgeous double-faced wool dresses on sale at Bergdorf Goodman or in the Michael Kors store on Madison Avenue—only at 70% or more off, after Christmas and in the early summer.

These dresses, and some pants, skirts, jackets and wonderful cashmere sweaters, are lined up like so many soldiers in my closet ready for almost any outing. The styles remain basically the same year-in and year-out. Beautiful fabrics such as the double-faced wool, along with heavier wools and tweeds, matte jersey, raw silk, satin, and cotton twill for summer. All styled classically and elegantly. Feminine. Flattering. Simple sleeveless sheaths and separates with some accessories, handbags and shoes to round out the collection. Wearable, luxurious, classic American style.

But now, since Michael Kors has gone public, the positioning of a lower tiered line, Michael by Michael Kors, into a global lifestyle brand seems a distinctly different brand proposition and one that is, perhaps, at odds with the couture line. Of additional concern is the thought that the couture line has suffered as a result of the greater attention to, and investment in, the lifestyle brand.

The lifestyle brand is designed and merchandised for a different and younger customer who likely has never seen, heard of, or cared about the Michael Kors collection or its understated, classic American positioning and style. These customers know Michael Kors from his successful appearance on Project Runway; from Michael Kors advertising; and from Michael Kors licensed watches, handbags and small leather goods featuring a prominently displayed MK logo in shiny brassy, brass. The new Michael Kors brand is described by management as a “global luxury lifestyle brand with a multi-channel strategy, unique design and strong infrastructure…a compelling assortment of luxury merchandise and exceptional service in a Jet Set store environment.”

The term “Jet Set” appears often in company communications. As a child of the 60’s when ‘Jet Set’actually meant something—picture Princess Margaret flying off to Mustique, Bianca Jagger going anywhere. And before international travel became so much more like getting on a bus at the Port Authority than departing in style at the Eero Saarinen designed TWA terminal at Kennedy— “Jet Set” was defined as: “An international social set made up of wealthy people who travel from one fashionable place to another.” [Read more…]