It’s hard out there for a denim company.
Before Covid-19 struck in the US, jeans were on the rebound after years of activewear stealing away sales. The pandemic put a halt to that. Not only has it hammered overall sales of clothes in the US, but with countless offices closed and many workers doing their jobs from home, shoppers have given priority back to comfortable, stretchy products. It’s been tough on formal clothes, such as suits, and for jeans, which despite being a casual staple aren’t known as the comfiest option to sit in for long periods.
Data from Panjiva, a division of market research firm S&P Global that tracks shipping data, found seaborne imports of denim items—including jeans, jackets, and other products—into the US took a deep plunge in the second quarter compared to last year. While they have since bounced back somewhat, they remain down. Imports of formal clothing, including suits, shirts, and blouses, are sluggish too, while athleisure imports—think items such as sweatpants and yoga pants—have grown.
Denim makers have registered the effects. In April, denim company True Religion filed for bankruptcy. Lucky Brand and G-Star Raw followed in July. Even a category leader like Levi’s isn’t immune.
This week the company reported a 27% drop in total sales in the three months through Aug. 23 compared to last year. That included a 29% decline in the Americas, its largest market. And those results were better than Wall Street analysts expected after the prior quarter, when Levi’s reported a 62% fall in its total sales.
The company’s efforts in recent years to build out its direct-to-consumer sales, especially online, and to appeal to more women have helped shore up its business. Levi’s is also working to adjust to the current environment. “As people seek out more casual comfort, we’re defining and leading trends with the launch of new, looser, more relaxed silhouettes across bottoms and tops,” CEO Chip Bergh told investors and analysts on a call this week.
Jeans, which started out as the workwear of choice for miners and cowboys because of their toughness, may still face an uphill battle, however, to become the preferred workwear of the work-from-home era.