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The denim industry has shrugged off the recession and is showing stronger growth and renewed vigor.
Women proved throughout the economic downturn that they had come to view denim as a wardrobe staple, an item with higher perceived value due to its versatility and durability. They may have been willing to trade down on price, but they certainly weren’t willing to trade out.
Sales of women’s jeans in the U.S. rose 6.2 percent to $8.52 billion for the 12 months through March 31 compared with sales of $8.02 billion, a 4.6 percent increase, during the same period in the prior year, according to data from market research firm The NPD Group.
While the gains are notable, there’s still evidence that the impact of the financial crisis continues to linger. According to NPD, the average price for women’s jeans fell 1.3 percent to $23.18 from $23.49, marking the second straight year of declines. That trend offers some explanation of the presence of two newcomers to the rankings of the top 10 women’s brands this year. Angels, a junior line that sells at Kohl’s, and Just My Size, a plus-size line, claimed the ninth and 10th spots this year, respectively, with both lines retailing between $20 and $30. Pushed out of the top 10 were Lucky Brand Jeans and Liz Claiborne.
Brands and denim specialty retailers are seeing clear signs of a rebound. Leah Eckelberger, owner of Boston’s Jean Therapy, offers her store to advertising agencies, magazines or financial institutions to host private shopping events for their clients. Those events dried up 14 months ago, but have started to come back recently.
“In the last three months, we’ve definitely seen the return of that and it’s been amazing,” said Eckelberger. “That, to me, is a sure sign that things are a lot better than they were.”
Lady Fuller, owner of the Blues Jean Bar, a chain of seven stores in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif., described 2008 as “hideous” and the first half of 2009 as “rough.”
However, the difficulties forced her to reexamine her business and adapt in order to survive. Fuller started carrying the majority of her stores’ 40 or so brands on consignment, a move she credits with helping keep the business afloat. She also made a concerted effort to make sure her selection of brands didn’t look anything like the mix offered at local department stores. Fuller and many other denim boutiques were burned when those neighboring department stores slashed prices on leading premium labels in order to dump inventory, making their stores look prohibitively expensive.
“We went and found smaller vendors that were less known and more interesting to our customers,” said Fuller.
Brands such as Fidelity and DL1961 caught the attention of customers and Fuller said her sales so far in 2010 are 20 to 30 percent above 2009.
Fuller also said customers have come out of the recession looking for more from their purchases.
“I think people are very conscious about where they spend their money and how they spend it,” she said. “If they feel someone can explain to them why this product is different and value of it…they’re willing to spend the money there.”