Denim DTRs

In the last two weeks, three of the biggest names in blue jeans announced they had signed deals to extend their brands into new categories with the help of leading retailers. All of the agreements put a premium on sustainability:

  • On January 29, Levi Strauss & Co. said it was partnering with Target to launch a limited-edition collection of more than 100 denim-themed items for women, men, infants and kids, and pets across apparel and accessories, home goods, and other lifestyle categories. Items range from trucker jackets to quilts, with the bulk priced under $25. The collection is being touted as having the greatest number of sustainable certifications and claims of any of the retailer’s limited collaborations. Target and Levi’s have long been wholesale partners for jeans, with the former selling the latter’s Denizen brand since 2011 and the Red Tab label since 2019. The new collection debuts on February 28.
  • On January 25, Wrangler said it was collaborating with Pottery Barn Teen for a foray into home goods. The collection is western-inspired and integrates denim and denim looks, as well as featuring many sustainable elements, such as the use of recycled materials. Categories include sheets, duvets, and pillowcases; denim quilts, hampers, rugs, catchalls, beanbag chairs, and sectional furniture; and horse-mural tapestries. The partnership marks the Wrangler brand’s reentry into home goods.
  • On January 20, Lee Jeans announced an alliance with H&M for a line of sustainable kidswear. Every item’s sustainability is tracked through the use of Life Cycle Assessment data measuring the use of water, carbon dioxide, and energy (with results available on HM.com). The retro 1980s- and 1990s-inspired collection includes relaxed-cut and cargo jeans, denim dresses, jackets, t-shirts, hoodies, knit beanies, and sports bags. The collection launches today (February 4).

Both Lee and Wrangler are owned by Kontoor Brands.

The denim category has been experiencing lackluster sales of late. Total category sales declined by 5% from 2014 to 2019, according to Euromonitor, with upscale denim brands the hardest hit. The situation worsened during the pandemic as consumers opted for athleisure wear over jeans. Denim brands closed stores and endured mass layoffs in the first half of 2020, with several—True Religion, Centric Brands and its Joe’s Jeans and Hudson jeans labels, Lucky Brand, and G-Star Raw among them—declaring bankruptcy. For the full year, Levi-Strauss saw total revenues decline 23%, according to its year-end financials released last week. Kontoor has not yet released its full-year results, but it saw revenues drop 24% for the first nine months of the year through September. (While revenues are a better gauge of consumer demand than profits, it should be noted that the profitability picture for both companies was more positive than the revenue situation.)

Some analysts and trend watchers, such as WGSN, are high on the denim category. They feel it is protected from some of the challenges facing the greater apparel industry and see signs of a resurgence after several years of weakness. Meanwhile, during the lean times, licensing is serving an important purpose as a tool that enables denim brands to diversify into categories (e.g. home goods) that are performing better than their core business and improve their overall fortunes, both for the rest of the pandemic and beyond.

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