But that growth has reversed in recent years. Sales of super premium jeans — brands like 7 For All Mankind, True Religion, Joe’s Jeans and Hudson — fell 8 percent last year, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Overall, jeans sales grew slightly in 2016 after two years of declines, as Americans traded down to lower-priced brands like Levi’s, H&M and Forever 21.
“The premium denim market has been in decline over the last several years,” Dalibor Snyder, True Religion’s chief financial officer, wrote in a document filed Wednesday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. “Competition has also increased from emerging and established fast fashion and low-priced apparel retailers.”
Instead, Americans are increasingly filling their closets with yoga pants and leggings, which they’re wearing not just to the gym, but also to run errands and meet up with friends. True Religion’s $319 skinny jeans have been replaced by Lululemon’s $98 yoga pants.
“All you have to do is look around: Ten years ago, it was cool to be wearing a pair of very expensive designer jeans,” said Marc Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School. “But now it’s very much not cool. All the fashionable women are wearing yoga pants.”
Designer denim took off in the early 2000s, during an era marked by large, flashy logos. True Religion, founded in 2002 in Manhattan Beach, Calif., was among the first to cash in on the wave of premium jeans, with its lineup of funky designs and washes. (Rock & Republic, which filed for bankruptcy in 2010, and Hudson Jeans were founded the same year.)
“Back then, $100 for a pair of jeans seemed exorbitant,” said Camilo Lyon, a retail analyst for Canaccord Genuity. “But all of a sudden people were paying $150, then $250 and $350. There was a rapid escalation in pricing, and consumers were willing to pay.”
True Religion continued to grow during the recession, thanks in part to celebrities like Britney Spears, Kanye West and Mariah Carey, who were routinely photographed wearing the brand’s jeans.
But by late 2012, the outlook had begun to sour. Competition was up and demand was down. True Religion put itself up for sale, and found a buyer in TowerBrook Capital Partners, a private-equity firm that paid $835 million for the company. Sales have continued to slip. Last year, True Religion reported revenue of $370 million, a 25 percent drop from 2013, and a loss of $78.5 million.
Today, shoppers are more likely to favor low- or moderately-priced jeans without large logos and decals, according to Euromonitor. A move away from obvious logos also means it’s becoming more difficult to distinguish between the high-end jeans and inexpensive ones.
Levi’s — where jeans generally range from about $45 to $90 — continues to be the most popular jeans brand among male consumers, while women tend to favor denim from “economy” brands like H&M, Old Navy and Forever 21, as well as private label brands from Walmart and Target, according to Euromonitor. (Economy jeans made up 39 percent of womens’ denim purchases last year, compared to 9 percent for super premium jeans, Euromonitor found.)
“I don’t think this one is rocket science: The luxury jeans market is getting smaller and will continue to do so,” said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner of Retail Systems Research in Miami. “Why would you spend $300 on ripped jeans, especially if you can get the same thing for $60?”