From Ralph Lauren to Calvin Klein, America’s biggest fashion labels are pinning their hopes on a blue jean revival. Across the industry, fashion brands are renewing their focus on denim, betting the wardrobe staple can be a major sales driver as jeans battle stretchy pants for supremacy from the waist down. The jeanmaking industry has been just as distressed as the ripped denim of the same name. Last year, imports of elastic knit pants surpassed those of jeans for the first time ever, according to the US Census Bureau.
Making things worse, blue jean styles have been largely stagnant over the past decade, leaving shoppers little to get excited about. Yet while Levi Strauss & Co. struggled for years to stave off pressure from stretchy pants, there are signs of a rebound. The jeans maker posted an 8 percent increase in revenue in 2017, thanks to a significant revamp of its women’s jeans. That was its strongest annual growth since 2011.
Meanwhile, luxury labels are helping pull denim out of the doldrums. Downtown streetwear brand Off White’s washed jeans drew lots of interest for reworked denim, as did the patchwork jean styles from Vetements that led the trendy label to collaborate with Levi’s. Jeans makers have sought to develop increasingly “technical” denim to win over shoppers who demand more stretch and moisture-wicking, integrating fibers such as elastane and lyocell.
PVH Corp, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, has seen an “incredible improvement” in its jeans businesses worldwide, Chief Executive Officer Emanuel Chirico said on a conference call Thursday. He attributed the revival to the popularity of ’90s style, and PVH is putting its marketing dollars behind it. This January, the company enlisted the bulk of the Kardashian clan—Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall, and Kylie—in a global ad campaign for Calvin Klein’s jean and underwear lines. “Clearly, the limited jeans product we have been focused on rolling out is paying huge dividends for us,” Chirico said of Calvin Klein’s denim sales.