Blue jeans are iconic American apparel. They are the favorite, go-to piece of clothing when you don’t feel like getting dressed; or at least they used to be. Younger American consumers, known as millennials, don’t seem to agree. They’re opting for durable (yet more comfortable) yoga pants.
Younger consumers are growing up wearing gym clothes every day, a trend known as “athleisure.” Brands, celebrities, and high fashion have even caught onto the trend, incorporating sportwear in their lines and collections.
A 2014 report from Piper Jaffray, a full-service investment bank and asset management firm, looked at how teens were spending their money and where they shop. It found teens were buying more activewear in 2014 (28%) than in 2008 (6%), with Nike, Lululemon, Under Armour, and Adidas as their go-to brands for athletic apparel. On the other hand, teen girls said they no longer wear clothing from Aeropostale, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Hollister.
Thanks to the athleisure trend, blue jeans are going out of style to such a point that Levi and Gap, which are considered industry heavyweights, are taking notice. Levi’s CEO, Chip Bergh, told analysts in 2013 the company was scrambling. “There is a big difference between the product that we’ve got on the floor today and what the consumer is looking for,” says Bergh, “and we just flat-out missed it.”
Levi’s saw sales drop from over $7 billion to $4.8 billion over the years. The industry as a whole saw an 8 percent (on a dollar basis) decline in sales of jeans in 2014, according to the market research firm NPD Group. To get get more consumers to buy their jeans, Levi’s started to make “stretchy” jeans with the comfort of yoga pants.
As for Gap, the company has invested heavily in its Athleta activewear business. Athleta is considered to be the biggest competitor of Lululemon, whose stylish yoga pants are a hit among consumers and helped fuel the athleisure trend.
Although the future of jeans may seem bleak amid strong competition from yoga pants retailers, all hope is not lost (yet). Jill Stanton, Executive Vice President of Product Development and Design at Gap’s Old Navy brand, says they are seeing consumers hungry for all different kinds of silhouettes like boyfriend, straight, overalls, shorts, skinny, and flares. The main shift in the market, according to WGSN’s head of denim and youth, Amy Leverton, is due to designers featuring premium denim more than activewear.
With designers bringing back the flare pants of the 70s, Guggenheim Partners analyst Howard Tubin suggests “there may be hope for denim.” As Sean Gormley, Wrangler’s creative directors, says: “There’s always a new kid on the block, but denim is good at innovating itself out of corners. I believe that’s what’s going to happen with this latest trend.”