The Analyst Team

August 18, 2021

The EDITED Denim Market & Product Trends Report

The ultimate playbook uncovering the denim trends for your assortment now and in the future. Plus, data-backed analysis into eco and size-inclusive denim.

Offsetting a sweatpants-fuelled 2020 and combined with its global market value expected to reach $26 bn by 2026, denim is back and bigger than ever. 

Using industry-leading data from the EDITED Market Intelligence Platform, our expert Analyst team pinpoints the essential denim trends to have in your assortment now and in the future, including the down low on skinny jeans and where the market stands on the Western aesthetic (chaps, anyone?). 

With sustainability and inclusivity paramount in today’s industry, we break down how these elements translate across the denim market, carving out opportunities for your business. If you weren’t already excited about denim, we aim to have you there by the end of this article.

Want to see how EDITED can make your day-to-day decisions easier and more informed? Reach out to a Retail Specialist today. 

Key takeaways

  • A defining trend over the past few months, jeans have officially usurped sweatpants, with the latter experiencing higher discounts and lower investments. However, comfort will continue to dictate future denim trends as relaxed, slouchy silhouettes flood the runway and socials.  

  • While the skinny jean remains a staple, it's falling out of favor with younger consumers. Instead, straight silhouettes have emerged as the new go-to, attached to 20% of recent sell outs. Y2K themes will continue to influence the denim market with baggy bottoms, vintage washes and trouser tassels considerations across all sizes for SS22

  • Retailers have been making strides to prioritize recycled, responsible and regenerated denim. Market-wide, 39% of denim assortments have had a sustainable transformation, up from 16% in 2019. However, following recent warnings from the United Nations climate report, environmental efforts need to be urgently ramped up across all fashion industry sectors to curb emissions.

  • The size-inclusive market is an area where sustainability in denim is lagging. Only 9% of plus-size jeans currently available use alternatives to conventional cotton and 3% of styles are described as "recycled.” Retailers need to innovate with plant-based dyes and resource-saving alternatives. This can also justify higher price points, in line with inflation on jeans.

Sweatpants’ swan song

Zoom dressing over lockdown saw tops steal focus, causing bottom arrivals to dip 15% between 2019 and 2020. However, newness has rebounded 30% YoY, with consumers venturing outside again, eclipsing pre-pandemic levels by 10%. Another notable shift from typical COVID dressing is that the sweatpants hype has simmered down. This style is akin to 7% of new options for the womenswear bottoms category arriving over the past three months. Though above pre-pandemic levels of 3%, it's a far cry from its position a year ago, at 12% of bottom arrivals. 

In comparison, women’s jeans are 17% of overall bottoms, up from last year at 15% and 2019 at 16%. This indicates that  denim truly never dies even when the more rigid style took a hiatus with consumers at home. There’s also a higher percentage of new sweat styles reduced across the market compared to jeans, 40% vs. 32%, hinting that new fleecy arrivals aren’t quite hitting the mark. 

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This doesn't mean shoppers will abandon comfort. Younger consumers' obsession with nostalgia and their hotly-discussed revolt against skinny jeans has led to straight leg styles reigning supreme. Overall, the more relaxed cut was responsible for 20% of jean sell outs across the US and UK combined over the past three months, vs. skinny jeans at 14%. 

Despite constant demand for Y2K fashion, the low rise silhouette is yet to return to its former glory of the early aughts. The number of hip-hugging jeans stocked has seen an 11% YoY increase and are earmarked as a directional trend for the more risk-taking consumer based on influencer approval and runway presence. However, high waistlines continue to be in demand and drive sales, attributing to 36% of the jeans selling out in the past three months.

Following in cowboy boots’ strides, more Western influences are unfolding in mainstream fashion. This has sparked a revival of the bootcut jean, which landed a starring role in a recent Good American campaign and experienced high sell outs at Zara. 

Further evidence of the yee-haw trend’s reach is Beyonce’s recent IVY Park Rodeo collection for adidas. Not only is the range a cultural statement as an ode to the Black cowboy, it expertly blurs the lines of denim, lounge and streetwear by spotlighting comfort - the underpinning theme of this category’s future. Products include a denim bodysuit, wide leg snap pants, tracksuit, chaps and a bucket hat.

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Read on for more trends shaping the future of the denim market. Discover what’s working now and what should be considered looking forward to SS22.

Now and next: Trends by demographic

Gen Z

Jeans dominated denim collections across SS21, making up 48% of all bottom arrivals at youth-orientated retailers. Straight leg styles saw higher levels of investment over more relaxed fits of wide leg and boyfriend jeans. Arrivals of skinny silhouettes slowed in the latter half of the season, as Gen Z’ers declared the style dead earlier in the year. Shades of blue, black and white remain core; however, Motel, Missy Empire, Mango and Zara invested in bright trending hues of purple, yellow and green.

Aligning with growing Y2K stories, denim accessories across hats and bags offered an entry price investment for retailers with price points starting at £8.59/$12. Nostalgic bucket hats in dark denim washes were favored at Mango and Zara, while boohoo utilized trending checkerboard prints in purple and blue hues. Quilted textures across bags saw backing from Mango, Stradivarius and Pull&Bear in tote silhouettes and chain-handled options.

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Images via boohoo, PrettyLittle, Instagram - PacSun

For men, descriptors of relaxed, stretch, loose and oversized throughout denim options highlight retailers' backing for comfortable fits over rigid tight-fitting options. Paint splatter, fabric dyes and frayed detailing trickled into SS21's ranges - while these introduced more playful elements to wardrobe staples, the adaptations saw slow SKU movement.

Mentions of "ecologically" across conscious items saw success over the season as denim continues to undergo an eco overhaul, with Zara, boohooMAN, H&M and Pull&Bear all using the term.

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Images via boohooMAN, Pull&Bear, Instagram - Urban Outfitters Men

Showing no signs of slowing down, Y2K themes continue to hold importance into Spring 2022 and remain a heavy influence for Gen Z consumers. Retailers should look to build out denim assortments with slouchy fits, low rise waistbands and extra long lengths, keeping comfort front of mind. Acid washes will be a key element to commercial collections, while nostalgic trouser tassels seen at Burberry can offer more directional detailing.

Double denim styling saw strong backing across Pre-Spring 2022 collections. Designer David Koma opted for a more risqué appeal with shorter hemlines and plunging unbuttoned shirt sets in a darker wash. In contrast, Christian Wijnants' oversized silhouettes and boyish cuts will be praised by the younger consumer as it prioritizes comfort and style.

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Images via Imaxtree: Burberry Pre-Spring 2022, Christina Wijnants, David Koma Pre-Spring 2022

Sticking with fits of a comfortable nature, denim jackets took the form of oversized silhouettes and dropped shoulders for menswear. Distressed rips and tears were used in contrast with washed detailing for more directional pieces. Already seeing backing from some retailers, patchwork denim is set to continue into SS22, as shown at Isabel Marant and Reese Cooper. Utilizing contrasting nostalgic washes will allow retailers to tap into vintage themes across denim. For further trend-forward inspiration, look to DSqaured2 for their color-blocked patchwork bottoms.

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Images via Imaxtree: Reese Cooper Spring 2022, Maison Mihara Yasuhiro Spring 2022, Isabel Marant Spring 2022

Millennials

Arrivals of straight cut jeans edged out skinny fits for SS21, with mom and wide leg also seeing strong investment. Of all styles, mom jeans had the highest number of sell outs at millennial retailers. Despite the resurfacing of Y2K in retail, high rise fits were a key component of SS21's Top Moving products, signaling that this demographic is not yet ready for low rise cuts.

Loose fits continue to move well, with 90s knee rips proving a popular detail. Vintage blue washes also saw success, with Zara retailing the widest number of options throughout the season. The Pantone shade, 17-4021 Faded Denim, was the retailer's top-stocked hue.

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Images via Good American, H&M, Zara

The importance of comfort remains essential in this category as retailers invest in their own stretch technologies. American Eagle saw heavy investment into its "Airflex" denim, which offers consumers "lightweight flexibility and comfort." From 30% of its denim mix in 2019, options grew to 94% in the same period this season, achieving majority sell outs. Seen at other retailers, including H&M and Gap, stretch technologies are an important upselling tool for retailers to elevate assortments.

BoohooMAN saw success with its relaxed fit jeans across the UK and US markets, with 81% of styles seeing a majority SKU sell out. Although investment into skinny fits remains essential for millennial men and accounted for 50% of options at analyzed retailers this season, slim, straight and taper categories all saw YoY growth.

denim market denim market denim marketImages via boohooMAN, River Island, American Eagle Outfitters

Denim was the shining star of the Pre-Spring 2022 collections, seeing a host of head-to-toe looks and statement products. Mid blue washes and slouchy fits were highlighted once again, cementing these already successful styles' longevity.

Comfort was backed up by the reappearance of baggy jeans, oversized trucker jackets and elasticated cuff detailing in the pre-season presentations. Consider incorporating patterns into your assortment through laser-printing technologies - forecasted as a key trend for Fall 2022/23 at Première Vision's Digital Denim Week. Natural and over-dyed washes are other areas to explore in future season collections. 

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Images via Imaxtree: Alessandra Rich Pre-Spring 2022, Missoni Pre-Spring 2022, Rokh Pre-Spring 2022

Across the men’s Spring 2022 runway, denim fits continued to widen, seeing relaxed and baggy styles flood the catwalk. As the straight leg establishes itself as a core shape, consider this a commercial alternative to the wider leg silhouettes. Take note of Louis Vuitton's extreme baggy jeans with rips and heavy washing for a more directional take on the trend.

Vintage denim was an overarching theme on the catwalk as designers took inspiration across washes and fits. Worn-looking vintage washes gained momentum for Spring 2022, updating slim-fit styles. Acid washing also emerged as seen at Études using wider silhouettes and Diesel opting for an all-black grungy take on the trend. As shapes begin to widen, we also note bootleg jeans trickling into collections.

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Images via Imaxtree: Diesel Spring 2022, Louis Vuitton Spring 2022, Y-Project Spring 2022

Boomers

Sosandar's denim products have sold well at Marks & Spencer since the brand's arrival in March 2021. Its jeans assortment has had a 29% sellout rate and 26% of items have been replenished. The jeans retail for £49.00 and offer a middle ground price point between own-brands M&S Collection (£19.50-£45.00) and Autograph (£55.00), and are cheaper than third-party brand Hobbs at £89.00. Worthy mentions include its skinny silhouette, which has seen a majority SKU sell out across multiple color options. Its Mom High Waisted Jeans also sold out in less than a month in light denim and grey colorways.

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Images via Lane Bryant, Madewell, Sosandar at M&S

Bonobos has seen success with its denim jeans assortment this season, with 74% of designs replenished. This spring's new addition to its range is its All Season Jeans, which are "weighted to keep you comfortable from January to December." Retailing at $99.00, the style has moved well across all six colorways, with all styles replenished at least once. The design also boasts eco credentials and is produced in a factory committed to 75% reduction in water by 2025.

In the UK, Marks & Spencer and George at ASDA have both dropped multi-pack jean options. Retailing at £32.00 and £16.00-£18.00 respectively, the styles have seen strong SKU movement at full price. Catering to the more value-driven shopper, their success highlights an area of opportunity for other mass market retailers.

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Images via Marks & Spencer, George at ASDA, Bonobos

Although Gen Z canceled skinny jeans earlier this year, do not dismiss them from your assortment. The style remains a timeless classic, which will appeal to the mid and mature customer long-term. Despite this, flesh out your range with more trend-led options. Straight leg cuts are already a popular buy and their presence within the Pre-Spring 2022 collections reinforces their status, while flares provide a more directional offering. Cashmere blends were also called out at Première Vision's recent Digital Denim Week for Fall 2022 and can provide a more premium offering that your competitors are yet to get behind.

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Images via Imaxtree: Chloé Pre-Spring 2022, Etro Pre-Spring 2022, Nili Lotan Pre-Spring 2022

Worn-looking jeans gained momentum on the Spring 2022 catwalk, ranging from vintage to acid and stone washes. The trend was also identified as a key look during Première Vision's Fall 2022 Digital Denim Week, with bleached denim, washouts and laser-printed detailing all elevating styles. Stick to vintage washes for the more classic-seeking mid and mature customer, while laser-printed whisker details can offer subtle interest to jeans.

There’s overwhelming evidence comfort will remain a priority in a post-pandemic world, meaning stretch fabrics are a must for your assortment. Straight leg fits also remained popular among Spring 2022 collections and offered a more commercial alternative to the extreme baggy fits targeting a younger consumer.

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Images via Imaxtree: Brunello Cucinelli Spring 2022, Courrèges Pre-Spring 2022, MTL STUDIO Spring 2022

Accelerating denim’s sustainable future

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently published the first significant science report since 2013, proving human activity responsible for global warming and rising sea levels.  

Described as a “code red for humanity,” the report details the importance of achieving net-zero emissions within the next five to 10 years. The fashion industry’s highly-publicized adverse environmental impact has caused retailers to create often long-term sustainable goals, which lack the urgency that scientists say is necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe. 

Considering the ethical and environmental effects of denim as one of the most polluting and resource-intensive materials, major pure play brands are accelerating their efforts. However, it’s still not enough. Less than half of the overall assortment of denim stocked online is described as containing sustainable or conscious elements.

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Analyzing the keywords behind sustainable denim goods stocked across the US and UK reveal the areas driving growth. The number of styles made with recycled materials and components have increased 440% since 2019, indicating the industry’s move towards maximizing material use and closing the loop. There’s been a 182% YoY and 345% increase since 2019 of denim made in partnership with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) which promotes fewer resources and responsible farming. Denim brands have also prioritized using less or no water - these styles are up 26% YoY and 106% since 2019. The use of bio-based materials is also rising, with TENCEL™ options stocked increasing 22% YoY and 96% since 2019. 

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How to sell size-inclusive denim

With demand for inclusivity rising coupled with denim's post-pandemic comeback, this section breaks down and analyzes retailers' shop-by-fit options to unearth untapped opportunities.

Plus-size

The skinny jean remains the go-to silhouette, boasting steeper investment than more trend-driven, relaxed styles. Straight leg jeans saw the second-highest investment in the US and experienced high SKU activity at Abercrombie & Fitch and boohoo. With influences from the 90s and Y2K eras continuing to inform ranges, the straight leg is a risk-free shape for retailers' future ranges. Despite the skinny's prowess, comfort is a key factor, with US retailers giving jeggings equal weighting to slim and boyfriend styles and a greater proportion of UK plus ranges are dedicated to wide leg shapes vs. straight size.

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In the US, entry price points across plus denim categories are mainly dominated by boohoo and Forever 21. Simply Be's vast assortment in the UK allows them to operate at both an exit and an entry-level price point across denim dresses and outerwear. Madewell's Plus Perfect Vintage and Plus Curvy Stovepipe jeans command the highest price point, currently at $135.00. These styles are made at Fair Trade Certified™ factories and contain specialized materials such as Cone® comfort stretch denim and ISKO Reform™, which uses "holding power innovation" to create "a one size smaller look.”

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The blue washes invested in for plus falls on the darker side compared with petite and tall jean's color breakdowns. With light and mid washes seeing success across jeans and outerwear, combined with these hues' commercial appeal at the Pre-Spring 2022 shows, retailers need to ensure these rinses are included in plus ranges. UK retailers have lightened up ranges by prioritizing white and neutrals over navies.

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As comfort underpins this category, retailers are highlighting stretch properties and materials in care descriptions. While cotton is the primary fiber used, only 9% of the jeans currently available use alternatives to conventional cotton through a partnership with The BCI. And despite the high proportions of styles containing petroleum-based materials, the term "recycled" is only attached to 3% of jeans stocked, signifying that the plus-size market has been ignored even though retailers have been giving denim an eco overhaul.

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Petite

With the most significant proportion of flared and wide silhouettes available than any other market and split hem styles seeing high SKU activity, the petite denim sector is geared more towards trends. Mom jeans are backed more prominently here than in plus-size and are a top moving style. Additionally, out of the areas analyzed, petite has some of the lowest investment in skinny jeans, particularly in the US where they're given almost equal weighting with straight legs.

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Banana Republic operates at the highest price point across the US in jeans, dresses, skirts and shorts. Outerwear is most expensive at Loft and denim jumpsuits at Madewell extend petite all-in-ones prices towards $100.00. In the UK, most categories exist at ASOS, while PrettyLittleThing and boohoo offer the most accessible denim styles due to aggressive discounting levels.

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The top stocked washes for petite jeans are the same across both regions. However, black rinses make up a higher proportion in the UK, while white denim is more prevalent at US retailers. Light rinses and bleached effects were among the top moving hues, as seen at Missguided and ASOS through the Topshop petite range. Mid washes also worked well in jeans at River Island, Loft, PrettyLittleThing and Nasty Gal.

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Comfort was communicated with "soft" and "stretch" appearing as top words. There's a heightened focus on sustainability in petite descriptors, driven by Banana Republic outlining its Washwell™ method, which saves on water compared to conventional processes. In the UK, water-saving techniques are communicated through the use of organic and recycled cotton (using less energy, water and waste) at ASOS and Missguided.

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Tall

Though still the top-stocked style, tall jeans have the lowest proportion of skinny silhouettes in the UK, giving exposure to more relaxed shapes. Equalling 8% of the US range, tapered styles see the highest backing here than across other categories, driven by investment in Madewell's tall range. 

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Boohoo achieved the lowest entry price in tall denim through its mini skirts and shorts. The brand also has the highest exit price point for outerwear in the US with oversized jackets. Priced between $135.00 and $148.00, Madewell's jeans operate in the highest US threshold, justified through technical features, conscious processes and premium cottons.

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The top three hues all are given equal weighting across regions, with black and mid blue washes resonating with tall consumers as top moving rinses. Investment in greens outpaced neutrals in the US and navies in the UK, with seagrass, sage and khaki shades noted at ASOS and Missguided.

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Distressed and ripped finishes were a clear trend investment, with 6% of tall jeans including this detail in their care descriptors. Missguided's recycled range, which extended to tall shapes, drove up interest in this keyword, while "responsible" featured in 9% of UK tall jeans. ASOS, which also partners with the BCI, uses more responsible laundry and farming process descriptors.

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Men's plus

Men's plus-sized denim is an underserved area, with less than half the investment of womenswear. Within plus-size jeans, shapes are predominantly skinny silhouettes in the UK. By comparison, the staple shape isn't as dominant in the US, allowing retailers to allocate more options to looser fits. Slim and straight cuts are currently backed by Target and Lee. Marketwide, roomier styles that taper at the ankle have seen success at River Island and Levi's.

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Across the US and UK, boohooMAN offers the lowest price points for denim categories, which are currently discounted between 36-46% on average. In the US, prices exit at Levi's for shorts and jeans and then at Target's Goodfellow brand for outerwear. The highest UK price for outerwear and shorts is at River Island, while Levi's dominates for jeans and Tommy Hilfiger for shorts.

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Dark indigo rinses are a popular hue in big & tall lines, also seeing high SKU activity at Levi's. Retailers looking to expand sizing should lead with this hue as its presence on the spring men's runway will set it up for commercial success as it appeals to all shapes. The growth of Gorpcore has led to earthy tones and utility details infiltrating menswear. Target and Levi's are leading in denim, backing with brown, khaki and neutral jeans, providing an add-on sale to match with shackets.

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Comfort and stretch descriptors may be a core driver in selling denim in a post-COVID world. However, "heavyweight" was included in 11% of jean descriptors, referencing durable cotton and evoking the American workwear aesthetic, which is alive and well at legacy brands like Lee, Levi's and Dickies at Target. Responsible sourcing and farming cropped up in UK descriptors as River Island's range includes BCI cotton.

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Contributions by Kayla Marci, Venetia Fryzer, Karis Munday, Aoife Byrne, Aleisha Hammond. 

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