It’s been almost a year that men have been working from home in joggers and lounge pants. Surely, the denim market is due for a comeback, but is there enough innovation to notably jumpstart sales?
In general, 2020 was a mixed year for denim but those stores that showed fashion sold it. The late Sunny Diego, vice president and dmm of designer and contemporary men’s at Saks Fifth Avenue, noted during our last interview with her that customers are not resisting higher pricepoints. “Sweet spots for us are anywhere under $500. There’s been much innovation in fabrics, colors, washes & elevated distressing from the top denim brands. Plus, Saks Men’s has seen strong footwear sales which historically portends increases in denim; both categories are now performing and should continue strong.”
According to Diego, men are really loving skinny fits and elevated but subtle distressing. Hot brands at Saks are Amiri, Purple, Hudson, Ksubi, and PRPS. “It’s the fashion guy who’s fueling the sales trends. As long as our brand partners deliver new fits, fabrics, and exclusive programs, there will be continued reason to buy.”
Matthew Sebra, senior fashion director for men’s and kids at Macy’s, agrees that newness is key. “There are only so many times a guy will keep buying his favorite basic jean so it’s our job to broaden assortments and show what’s next.” As Macy’s continues to evolve its denim mix, they now showcase their hottest looks in an exciting new trend space (The Park, in both Herald Square and Lenox), refreshed every 8-12 weeks. Says Sebra, “Men are becoming more comfortable exploring fashion options, and more open to creating a denim wardrobe. Some of our best sellers are the most directional: a distressed patchwork jean, a drop shoulder denim jacket, a kimono-front patchwork jacket. We offer pricepoints from $30 private label to elevated offerings at $225, from slim-fit basics to high-rise tapered models.” Although Sebra believes there will soon be a swing back to dress-up as guys tire of joggers, “Denim is never going away. It’s the most personal garment a guy can own.”
Independent menswear merchants shared mixed reports on denim business. While most tout the need for newness, not all were confident enough to take fashion risks during a pandemic. “We expected denim to be better,” confides Dan Farrington, gmm of men’s at Mitchells. “I believe the business will pick up as guys get tired of sweatpants, but the category needs innovation: it’s been stale for a while.” Jim Foley, co-founder of Woodbury Men’s Shop, whose dominant brand is Mac, is optimistic about a denim comeback, noting that “customers are now more open to color, overdyed fabrics, and trimmer fits.” In Miami, Ed Boas, president at Lanes, does the majority of his denim business with AG at $198-$225 retails. “My customers know and love the brand! We carry their skinny fit 14-inch bottoms in two denim washes and several colors of stretch cotton. We sell the 15-inch bottoms in five different denim washes and 10 colors. Of course, we sell more stretch cotton because of the color options.”
VENDOR VIEW: FALL ‘21
Clearly, brands are getting the memo on innovation, brand extension, and sustainability. “More than ever, now is the time to think outside the box,” says Mark D’Angelo, vice president of men’s sales at Liverpool. “One of our most exciting new fabrics is our 360 knit denim, introduced first in bottoms, then jean jackets. Given that our demographic is 30-55, our models remain focused on slim straight, relaxed straight, and skinny. Washes are more diversified with more offerings in light, and a continuation of dark and medium. Newer washes reflect a vintage feel, minor destruction, heavier sanding, tonal and contrast stitching. Our jogger business will expand as will our travel knit fabric, and we’ve reintroduced a tech capsule. The biggest home run from this past fall was our introduction of sweater knits and shirt jackets, which sold out. Expansion of our eco/sustainable product is a key long-term initiative.”
Marc Rosen, evp and president of Levi Strauss Americas, notes that the global trend toward casualization plays well to Levi’s strengths. “Comfort categories, including denim with stretch, shorts, and fleece, represent more than half our business and have continued to grow as we find innovative ways to expand our product portfolio.” He goes on to mention sustainable fabrics and more relaxed models as strong performers, as are brand collaborations e.g. a sportswear-inspired capsule with Snoopy, a collection with Lego, and a two-part collaboration with New Balance, all successful.
Rosen expects comfort to continue strong. “Looser fits will continue to thrive, as Levi’s has recently seen a resurgence in heritage fits like 505 and 501. We’re also bringing a wider range of fleece items; we continue to design for comfort across the brand as we look to use more high-stretch fabrics. For denim washes, we expect bleached out indigo, granite stonewashes, authentic indigo washes, and well-worn destruction to do well. The utility trend will become even more popular, including carpenter and cargo.”
According to Arkun Durmaz, president at 34 Heritage, bestsellers have been a compilation of softer, lighter weight styles offering great stretch and comfort. “Despite the unprecedented circumstances, 2020 outperformed our expectations. Our replenishment styles were in high demand and our twill shorts were a huge success for spring/summer. Cargo styles, however, underperformed.” For fall 2021, 34 Heritage is committed to using only the richest, most premium fabrics with the least impact on the environment. They’re also introducing fabrics with organic cotton and post-consumer recycled polyester yarns.
At AG, vice president of retail, Sid Dey observes that, despite the pandemic, consumers are adding newness to their wardrobes. “On the men’s side, we continue to see slimmer silhouettes, and on the women’s side, an interest in higher rises. A notable hit this season is our turtleneck tops for both men and women, ideal as a layering piece or worn on its own—it’s also a personal fave!”
Suzy Biszantz, president and CEO of Joe’s Jeans and Hudson, remains bullish on denim. “Particularly on the men’s side, our business at retail has been very strong; in some cases, we’re seeing high double-digit increases over last year.”
She describes the Hudson brand as directional, with consumers who buy into the designer sneaker trend. “Hudson has an authentic streetwear vibe to it: evolved washes with heavy destruction, artisanal details, and unique dye techniques. This customer is looking for newness so we’ll continue to evolve the denim in authentic original ways for fall ’21. This includes stripped and dyed techniques that bring about great highs-lows in the wash and new depth to indigo, black, and color. Also, we’ve updated tie-dye, evolving techniques that are tonal and subdued. Skinny still prevails, whether moto, five-pocket, or cargo details, the overall market continues to get into skinnier fits. Our Zack fit (11 ¾-inch leg opening) and the Blinder Biker V2 (12-inch leg opening) with moto-inspired details constitute most of our business and are the bodies we’ll continue to build on.”
At Joe’s, the casualization of the men’s business and the WFH (work from home) trend continues. Says Biszantz, “Comfort has become key, which we’ve seen in our newly introduced French terry indigo fabric. It looks like a regular jean, has the comfort of a sweatpant, and comes in a variety of shades of Indigo and black denim. Additional styles include joggers and shorts as well as destructed washes and shades of black denim.” Joes has also done well with their drop yoke jogger and will continue to expand this category in modal twill, linen, French terry plus corduroy, and coated treatments for fall. “Cargo and utility details continue to be important in these shapes, but we also see cleaner, more classic models emerging.”
According to Biszantz, the non-denim category is 30 percent of Joes’ business for spring ’21. “We’ll continue to build on this for fall as the short, jogger, cargo, and drawstring pant categories grow. Much of this growth is around non-five-pocket silhouettes, including lounge capsules with novelty treatments like storm dye and marble dye in a variety of fabrics with a premium twist on athleisure. Fits continue to get slimmer: we’ve had success with leg openings from 14 to 12 inches. As the customer looks for newness, we’re selling vintage washes with destruction, holes, paint, bleach, and resin coating. We’ll continue to build on these trends for fall.”
Clearly, denim makers have risen to the innovation challenge, it’s now up to retailers to get the word out. Advises AG’s Dey, “Having a diverse range within your assortment is key right now. As we adapt to changing lifestyles, everything from rigid denim to leisure looks should be showcased. Also, retailers must be ultra-supportive of their staffs, always the key to strong sales.”
Suggests D’Angelo at Liverpool, “Not only do buyers need to adjust their assortments to reflect today’s casual environment, but menswear retailers also need to embrace social media marketing and other creative strategies like weekly email video clips of new arrivals. Many of our women’s accounts have reported very successful social media campaigns and events. Understanding that men shop differently, the outreach might need to be approached differently but nonetheless, the outreach has to happen.”