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When it Comes to Denim Consumers Remain True Blue

By Wendy McDaniel

Fans of denim are “true blue” when it comes to their favorite choice in the clothing industry. By a wide margin, denim remains the most popular apparel fabric in the world. Product innovation and the widespread move toward casual dressing, versatility, durability, and the fashion industry are just a few of the reasons for the apparel industry’s denim revolution.

After four consecutive years of sales increases, denim continues to climb upward in the industry. According to the Lifestyle Monitor, a publication of Cotton Inc., the consumption of denim is so great that if all the denim fabric produced last year by U.S. mills was laid out, there would be a four-lane denim highway more than 60,000 miles long.

The ACG Denim Mill in Littlefield, TX, alone produced 34,677,726 yards of the popular fabric in the fiscal year ended June 30, 1996.

A key apparel executive was quoted in the Monitor as saying, a reason for denim’s popularity is that it “truly bridges the age gap,” unlike virtually every other apparel category. So, while fashion changes on a daily basis, denim remains constant.

“While most kids don’t want to wear what their parents wear, or even what their grandparents wear, denim is one item you may see everyone wearing during a family reunion,” he said. “It may not be the same style of denim, but it will be denim.”

The durable and fashionable cotton material has proven to be a utilitarian fabric that is suitable for rugged lifestyles but fashionable enough for runways of the fashion industry.

The Monitor reports that 97 percent of U.S. consumers own at least one denim item and that the average consumer owns nearly 15 pieces of denim and roughly seven pairs of denim jeans, a slight increase over a year ago.

In 1995, 11 percent of all sales (in dollars) were for denim products, according to the NPD Group, a national research firm. The numbers also reveal that retail sales of denim apparel have grown at twice the rate of all other apparel sales over the past six years. A total of 750 million jeans, shorts, skirts, dresses and slacks are sold through every type of retail channel imaginable from warehouse clubs to trendy boutiques.

John Lupo, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Wal-Mart, Inc., noted that Wal-Mart sells 3.11 pairs of jeans every second of the day, and they sell more denim than any other retailer.

With specialty stores such as The Gap, and Limited Express featuring denim clothing and accessories, and major labels such as Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne all adding to their denim collections, consumers have several different brands and outlets from which to choose their favorite denim style.

Although the cornerstone of the denim industry remains the all-American, 100- percent cotton blue denim jeans, the industry has become more diverse. With innovations such as new dyeing techniques that add richer colors and prints, new textures such as stone-washed denim and sanded denim, the consumer has more choices than ever from which to choose.

Bob Rockey, president of Levi Strauss North America, says it is all about choice and that is what LS&CO. is giving the consumer.

“In the same outfit, someone can wear a pair of jeans, a denim shirt and a denim jacket on top of that,” Rockey notes. “And if the consumer doesn’t feel like wearing jeans, we have shorts, skirts and dresses.” One of Levi’s latest product introductions is the new “Wide Leg” jeans program.

The expanded range of choices explains the trend consumers have set in the last few years. According to Rockey, consumers continue to add to their denim wardrobe rather than to substitute, and consumers do not seem to discard their denim clothes even after they lose their original color and shape.

Denim shorts are becoming more popular as consumers now own an average of 3.2 pairs per person. NPD data also shows that sales of women’s denim skirts increased 133 percent from 1990 through 1995.

There is nothing like the comfort or feel of the cotton denim fabric with which consumers have fallen in love. Versatility, durability, and fashion sense are words that seem to sum up the demand for denim. They are the reasons consumers keep coming back.