Trade show booth of Earnest Sewn

If any apparel segment is in serious flux right now, it’s the denim industry. First, there’s the shake-up in leadership taking place: Marithe and Francois Girbaud has named a new CEO, Simone Mantura. Scott Morrison, who had left the denim brand Earnest Sewn 2 months ago, is now back in the game as the global CEO of Evisu (outside of Japan). Originally, Morrison was the co-founder of Paper, Denim, Cloth, and then Earnest Sewn -both relatively smaller denim brands than the more established Evisu, which over the years has gotten lost in the denim mire of brands.

Then there’s the trade shows: The top denim trade show, which is arguably Bread & Butter, left Barcelona and is now back in it’s hometown of Berlin and will showcase at a new location at the Tempelhof on July 1-3. To compound things, we just wrapped up our Denim Section of our North American Youth Culture Study 2009, and from a youth perspective, some of these top-end denim brand changes make little to no difference at all, according to new trends determining brand preferences and spending patterns within this new generation of consumers.

Basically, there are several different directions going on here.

The interesting aspect about denim is that it often acts a barometer of trends and opportunities as well as an indicator of where the marketplace is taking the greatest hit. As we’ve noted in many stories on Label Networks, the premium denim market has had the greatest decline during the recession as less people are willing to spend premium prices, i.e. $150 for a pair of denim jeans. Among 13-25-year-olds however, while denim is extremely important, the percentages are not high among those who do spend such premium prices. It should be noted, that often when denim is discussed, the primary markets covered in media tend to be premium denim and denim purchased by older demographics, namely 33-45-year-olds and predominately male. Younger demographics and their denim preferences and purchasing patterns rarely get as much attention. It is in this category however, where the market remains at its strongest, especially among females.

Denim is also very important within our North American Youth Culture Study because it represents the quintessential Americana fashion statement and in many different forms. Denim is often at the vortex of defining new trends in lifestyle just by what’s moving in or out of popularity. One thing that is going for denim right now, for example, is the resurgence of authentic or heritage brands and the growing popularity of what were once utilitarian brands. Popularity in various styles also account for the increase for certain denim brands with the revival of denim cut-offs, denim skirts, boyfriend jeans, and the ongoing favorites–skinny denim among younger demographics. The other interesting aspect of denim is the increasing number of new top favorite brands indicating that the marketplace is moving niche. What this means is that one top brand no longer dominates in as high of percentages as before, and opportunity exists for other brands to move into denim (especially women’s denim). Many smaller brands are also realizing that to have a denim line is almost essential today in terms of having a complete collection and being taken seriously by specialty boutiques and top retailers. Some of these newer brands to denim are taking over very strong niche segments.

Overall, top brands have shifted greatly in the last 6 months, and spending patterns and frequency changes have re-shaped the size of market for one of the world’s largest denim demographics, which is youth culture in North America.

While the top mainstream fashion news in denim remains the same old stories -who’s leaving what brand to take over another -another very real story is which old and new brands are making the greatest impact on specific demographics, what style/color/wash/silhouette trends are having the most impact now and in the future, and how changes in spending patterns are re-creating a new denim marketplace altogether.

To read more on Denim and Youth Culture email The Denim section in Label Networks’ North American Youth Culture Study 2009 is the largest completed since 2000.