Washington - Blame the leggings and the yoga pants. Americans are buying fewer pairs of jeans these days - and when they are, they're not spending as much as they once did.
True Religion, which after years of declining sales, filed for bankruptcy protection this week and announced it would be closing at least 27 stores. A decade ago, the brand was riding high, commanding hundreds of dollars a pair for jeans with the company's signature horseshoes embroidered onto the back pockets. Business nearly tripled between 2007 and 2012, and by 2013, True Religion had annual revenue of $490 million.
But that growth has reversed in recent years. Sales of super premium jeans - brands like 7 for All Mankind, True Religion, Joe's Jeans and Hudson - fell 8 percent last year, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Overall, jeans sales grew slightly in 2016 after two years of declines, as Americans traded down to lower-priced brands like Levi's, H&M and Forever 21.
"The premium denim
market has been in decline over the last several years," Dalibor Snyder,
True Religion's chief financial officer, wrote in a document filed Wednesday
with the US Bankruptcy Court in
Instead, Americans are increasingly filling their closets with yoga pants and leggings, which they're wearing not just to the gym, but also to run errands and meet up with friends. True Religion's $319 skinny jeans have been replaced by Lululemon's $98 yoga pants.
Designer denim took off in
the early 2000s, during an era marked by large, flashy logos. True Religion,
founded in 2002 in
"Back then, $100 for a pair of jeans seemed exorbitant," said Camilo Lyon, a retail analyst for Canaccord Genuity. "But all of a sudden people were paying $150, then $250 and $350. There was a rapid escalation in pricing, and consumers were willing to pay."
True Religion continued to grow during the recession, thanks in part to celebrities like Britney Spears, Kanye West and Mariah Carey, who were routinely photographed wearing the brand's jeans.
Read also: Employer killed over R2m insurance policy
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 $835 million for the company. Sales have continued to slip. Last year, True Religion reported revenue of $370 million, a 25 percent drop from 2013, and a loss of $78.5 million.
Today, shoppers are more likely to favour low- or moderately-priced jeans without large logos and decals, according to Euromonitor. A move away from obvious logos also means it's becoming more difficult to distinguish between the high-end jeans and inexpensive ones.
Levi's - where jeans generally range from about $45 to $90 - continues to be the most popular jeans brand among male consumers, while women tend to favour denim from "economy" brands like H&M, Old Navy and Forever 21, as well as private label brands from Walmart and Target, according to Euromonitor. (Economy jeans made up 39 percent of womens' denim purchases last year, compared to 9 percent for super premium jeans, Euromonitor found.)
"I don't think this one
is rocket science: The luxury jeans market is getting smaller and will continue
to do so," said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner of Retail Systems