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Driving Demand for Denim Jeans : Cotton Incorporated Retail Survey

Denim jeans represent an estimated $60 billion global market for retailers, but recent cost-cutting measures (e.g., thinner fabrics, changes in fiber content, etc.) have caused significant performance issues and dissatisfaction among consumers. Ownership of denim jeans reached a peak in 2005/2006 due to the premium denim trend, which allowed shoppers to purchase higher quality jeans at multiple price-points. Following that peak, economic pressures and the fast-fashion movement compelled clothing retailers to sacrifice quality and cotton. As apparel prices began to rise at retail, the majority of shoppers indicated that they were paying more for inferior quality and began to scrutinize clothing by a different standard–and jeans were no exception.

Key Insights :

  • Cost-cutting measures implemented throughout the supply chain have resulted in avoidable performance issues.
  • Customer dissatisfaction is the highest vvhen synthetic fibers are substituted for cotton in denim jeans.
  • Consumers are frustrated with jeans fading, shrinking, stretching, and falling apart.
  • Issues with clothing durability have been noticed most in denim

Fierce Competition

Denim jeans can be found in the wardrobes of 96% of U.S. consumers who, on average, own seven pairs. Despite high consumer favor, jeans have lost a significant amount of retail floor space to other bottomswear items like dresses and athletic pants, according to Cotton Incorporated’s Retail Monitor™ Survey. The popularity of women’s dresses has increased in the past five years, while athleticwear’s presence at retail has grown, in recent years, due to its popularity as a multifunctional apparel item among men and women. More than 9 out of 10 consumers report that they wear athletic apparel for activities other than exercise. Retailers across various channels have responded to consumer demand by adding more fashionable and functional athletic clothing to their product lines, thereby reducing available floor space for knit tops and jeans.

The competition that denim jeans are facing from other product categories is intensified by shoppers being disappointed about recent changes in the quality of fabric and fiber content of apparel products. The majority of consumers say that clothing purchases do not last as long (59%) and that the quality of clothing has declined from last year (52%). Almost three out of four apparel shoppers (72%) also say that clothing prices have increased since last year. Paying more for less does not meet consumers’ value expectations and Cotton Incorporated’s Customer Comment Research™ reveals that dissatisfaction with clothing quality is the highest for denim jean purchases.

Denim jeans accounted for nearly 30% of negative customer ratings-higher than any other apparel product studied. In fact, compared to all other clothing categories, customers were most likely to mention poor quality (25%), disappointment (28%), and returns made due to dissatisfaction (28%) in their denim jean reviews. Because consumers have more brand loyalty when purchasing jeans, many notice changes in jean quality and indicate feeling betrayed by their favorite brand.


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