Pricey jeans are out, yoga pants are in

American consumers are choosing leggings, yoga pants and lower-priced jeans over premium denim brands

MIAMI •Pricey jeans lack the legs to ward off leggings and yoga pants for consumers' affection these days.

Americans are buying fewer pairs of jeans - and when they are, they are not spending as much as before.

Take the case of True Religion, which, after years of declining sales, filed for bankruptcy protection recently and said it would be closing at least 27 stores.

A decade ago, it was commanding hundreds of dollars a pair for jeans with the signature horseshoes embroidered on back pockets.

Business nearly tripled between 2007 and 2012 and, by 2013, True Religion had an annual revenue of US$490 million.

But that growth has reversed in recent years. Sales of super-premium jeans - brands such as 7 For All Mankind, True Religion, Joe's Jeans and Hudson - fell 8 per cent last year, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Overall, jeans sales grew slightly last year after two years of declines, as Americans traded down to lower-priced brands such as Levi's, H&M and Forever 21.

"The premium denim market has been in decline over the last several years," True Religion's chief financial officer Dalibor Snyder wrote in a document filed with the United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

Lululemon yoga pants on display in a store in Pasadena, California. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE–PRESSE

"Competition has also increased from emerging and established fast- fashion and low-priced retailers."

Instead, Americans are increasingly pulling on yoga pants and leggings, which they are wearing not just to the gym, but also to run errands and meet friends.

True Religion's US$319 (S$435) skinny jeans have been replaced by Lululemon's US$98 yoga pants.

Designer denim took off in the early 2000s, during an era marked by large, flashy logos. True Religion was among the first to cash in, with its funky designs and washes.

"Back then, US$100 for a pair of jeans seemed exorbitant," said Canaccord Genuity retail analyst Camilo Lyon. "But all of a sudden, people were paying US$150, then US$250 and US$350."

True Religion continued to grow during the recession, thanks in part to celebrities such as Britney Spears, Kanye West and Mariah Carey, who were seen wearing its jeans.

But by late 2012, the outlook had begun to sour. Competition was up and demand was down.

True Religion put itself up for sale and found a buyer in TowerBrook Capital Partners, a private-equity firm that paid US$835 million.

Sales have continued to slip.

Last year, True Religion reported revenue of US$370 million, a 25 per cent drop from 2013, and a loss of US$78.5 million.

Today, shoppers are more likely to favour low- or moderately- priced jeans without large logos and decals, Euromonitor said.

A move away from obvious logos also means it is becoming more difficult to distinguish between the high-end and inexpensive jeans.

Levi's - whose prices range from US$45 to US$90 - continues to be the most popular among males.

Women tend to favour "economy" brands such as H&M, Old Navy and Forever 21 as well as private-label brands from Walmart and Target, said Euromonitor.

Economy jeans made up 39 per cent of women's denim purchases last year, compared with 9 per cent for super-premium jeans.

"The luxury jeans market is getting smaller and will continue to do so," said Ms Paula Rosenblum, managing partner of Retail Systems Research in Miami. "Why would you spend US$300 on ripped jeans, especially if you can get the same thing for US$60?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2017, with the headline 'Pricey jeans are out, yoga pants are in'. Print Edition | Subscribe