Facing Back-to-School Challenges

Denim manufacturers are revamping strategies for a back-to-school season that just isn't what it used to be.

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Dollhouse's dark skinny jeans.


Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Denim In Depth issue 05/22/2008
Denim manufacturers are revamping strategies for a back-to-school season that just isn't what it used to be.

The old days of b-t-s shopping as a summer ritual have faded. As consumer buying patterns have changed, so has the definition of the season.

"Back-to-school used to be considered 'the juniors' Christmas, but now, retailers want to see new product every month," said Lanie Pilnock, senior vice president of brand management for the Iconix-owned Mudd brand. "Now, back-to-school is more of a mind-set."

In 2007, families with school-age children spent $7.6 billion on clothing and accessories, out of $18.4 billion total b-t-s spending, according to a survey by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation. While overall spending increased 4.5 percent from 2006, the clothing category was flat, as consumers spent an average of $231.80, compared with $228.14 in 2006.

This year, the struggling economy and spiraling gasoline and food prices could cause consumers to tighten their wallets even further for the b-t-s season. As a result, denim manufacturers are approaching b-t-s with caution. Rather than risking markdowns and excess inventory with huge collections, they are focusing on year-round newness by shoring up replenishment programs. And instead of overplaying trends that may bomb with fickle teen shoppers, they are offering timeless basics and layering on fashion pieces, with the latest treatments, washes and details to keep customers interested.

To hedge their bets, denim firms are introducing fall collections that include tops, dresses and pants in a range of alternative fabrics. Taking cues from contemporary and premium denim markets, junior vendors are launching individualized fit programs for the first time this year. To build brand loyalty, companies are moving to more direct-to-consumer online advertising campaigns that include events, contests and celebrity tie-ins.

"We're getting back to our roots, with no over-the-top, overstyled product," Pilnock said. "We know that given this economy, girls' money is split in many ways, so we're making things on trend, but timeless and not overly trendy."

Along with a core line of basic, flared silhouettes, the b-t-s line includes new high-waisted shapes and lighter washes. Mudd will also launch a tops line, with 50 styles in knit and woven fabrics, including attached "twofers," or knit tops and sweater combinations.
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