Acne’s recent decision to whittle down its denim offering to only three styles per gender may seem surprising for a brand once known for its jeans, but experts say it’s a wise choice that’s in line with larger market changes. In fact, they say, more brands would be smart to follow suit.
The market has shifted dramatically in the last three or four years, said Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst at NPD Group. “Very few people need more low-rise skinny jeans, because it’s been such a long-term trend and it really didn’t evolve much from that,” he said. “That means that, unless you come up with something very different or something very avant-garde, consumers aren’t necessarily going to need to [add more denim] to their wardrobe.”
Katie Smith, a senior retail analyst at Edited, agrees that there’s been a slow turnover of denim trends since the skinny’s reign began. “The industry became more focused on the attractive growth in other categories, [like activewear], rather than the stability of core denim styles,” she said.
Consumers are now left in replenishment mode, meaning they either have to wear out their jeans or outwear them, via weight gain or loss, for example. But given how prevalent stretch jeans are today, said Cohen, consumers have a lot of give there — meaning most of their jeans will continue to fit (at least enough), regardless of any physical changes.
What’s more, the lower-priced market has increased in sophistication, allowing customers to pay less for similar products that often last just as long. “The upper-end of the market really took a big hit” as a result, said Cohen, and it’s happened across categories like footwear and handbags, where a once-aspirational product has shifted to become a signature item you can find from more accessible brands.
Acne’s signature denim
Recent data on the global denim market from Euromonitor reflects these shifts. Between 2011 and 2016, it found that economy and standard jeans — equated to Forever 21 and Levi’s, respectively — grew by a collective 49.5 percent. By comparison, premium and super premium jeans — ranging from Diesel to Frame Denim — grew by only 27.8 percent during the same period.
And that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. The latest research from Edited indicates that the number of new denim styles introduced so far this year in the premium and luxury market is down 11.6 percent from last year, compared to mass market styles, which have increased by 13.5 percent.
Given the speedy output of fast fashion companies today and the saturation of the denim market overall, there’s also “more product than the consumer can consume,” added Cohen. When luxury brands like Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham jump on the denim bandwagon as a sort of afterthought — selling most of their jeans for upwards of $500 — you have to wonder if it’s worth it.
Having so many product options from so many different brands is unnecessary. “This is an opportune moment for Acne to differentiate by simplifying,” said Smith, whose data has found the market to be dominated by skinny (78 percent), wide (12 percent) and boyfriend-style jeans (9 percent). “Acne can address those dominant shapes easily, focusing more attention on washes and building great messaging around their [new denim] line.”
“By minimizing the assortment, you’re making those few items that much more important,” agreed Cohen, noting that it’s not only more efficient, but better for a company’s overall branding: They’ll be better known for the specific styles they do really well and create a deeper connection with more specific consumers as a result. “When you try to be something for everyone, you end up being nothing for anyone,” he cautioned.
Experimenting with every fleeting trend, like embellishment or embroidery, can be left, instead, to fast-fashion juggernauts like H&M and Zara, whose lower prices will have far more appeal.
There’s still room for high-end denim brands, but they’ll need to follow in Acne’s footsteps if they want to survive, believes Cohen. “They need to make a statement, to take a stance rather than being wishy-washy or all over the place,” he said. “[This market change] is happening whether they like it or not, so brands might as well make it part of their strategy, rather than having it forced upon them.”