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Despite widespread discounting at department stores, specialty retailers found that consumers were more than willing to pay premium prices for a range of denim styles. Brands such as True Religion, Seven For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity and Paige Premium Denim proved top performers at retail and further solidified their positions as market leaders in the category. However, as those brands become more widely distributed, some shoppers are looking to smaller, lesser-known labels.
"I've noticed a lot more educated consumers coming in and looking for more obscure brands," said Lawrence Scott, owner of Pittsburgh Jeans Co. Among Scott's top performers were True Religion and Paige, but he also saw brands such as PRPS, Aristocrat and Dittos perform well.
"Lately, with a lot of the bigger guys, they're starting to overdistribute," said Scott. "I'm seeing a lot of people come in who say, 'I can get these at this place or that place.' The obscure brands are really starting to pick up now because of distribution issues."
Thomas George, owner of E Street Denim in Chicago, experienced a similar trend. Seven For All Mankind, Citizens, Paige, True Religion and Joe's Jeans were top sellers, but several smaller brands carved out their own niches. J Brand continued to have success with its skinny styles and George had high praise for the consistency of Hudson Jeans.
"In the ability to have a good jean on a timely basis in a nice direction, Hudson is always enjoyable to have," said George. "I think they're one of the ones that puts a consistent smile on your face."
While premium denim is performing well, George noted the lack of a clear trend being offered to consumers poses difficulties to retailers and consumers alike. Skinny, boot-cut and flared-leg styles are all selling well and customers seem to be rotating through each depending on the season.
"The market is all over the board because the woman is all over the board," said George.
As a result, brands are trying a little of everything. "It's like we're trying to overanalyze what this woman wants to do," said George. "She's waiting for us to tell her and we're waiting for her to tell us. That's why people are throwing so much against the wall."