- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Stores discount the piles

of jeans on their shelves

Retailers may have a hard time selling all the jeans and denim jackets they stocked for back-to-school shoppers.

The looming denim glut has prompted Gap Inc. and Limited Brands Inc. to discount jeans. Responding to a surge in popularity for torn, embroidered and paint-splattered styles last year, retailers bought on average 10 percent more denim apparel this season, said Legg Mason analyst Richard Jaffe in New York.



Companies loaded up on denim after teen retailers including Abercrombie & Fitch Co. posted average quarterly sales gains of 29 percent in the past year. Abercrombie is displaying “destroyed” jeans splotched with bleach and paint and torn in more than a dozen places for as much as $80.

“They’re very popular at school, but I just don’t see why you’d buy pants with holes in them,” said Elizabeth Childress, a high school senior in Greensboro, N.C., after buying two pairs of faded jeans at J.C. Penney for $40. “They are very expensive.”

Nordstrom increased the number of denim brands for women by 25 percent. Premium jeans are “one of the fastest-growing categories we have,” said spokeswoman Deniz Anders.

At Bloomingdale’s, owned by Cincinnati retailer Federated Department Stores Inc., a pair of Chip and Pepper jeans with embroidery in green tones on the pocket sells for $233. Federated’s Macy’s East offers dressy denim, adding tuxedo stripes along the sides of jeans and pairing regular jeans with velvet jackets.

“Novelty denim has taken center stage,” wrote Mark Friedman, an analyst with Merrill, Lynch & Co. in New York.

Levi Strauss & Co. spokesman Jeff Beckman said there are too many denim brands. Limited Brands’s Express chain is already offering $20 discounts on jeans, leading analysts to say that more markdowns may be on the way. Gap in San Francisco has cut prices for jeans $10 and is giving away free downloads of ITunes to anyone who tries on a pair.

“I think that is dangerous,” David Wolfe, creative director at the Doneger Creative Services trend and color forecasting firm, said of the abundance of denim. “This one is going to crash and burn.”

Retailers also introduced embroidered shirts and blazers, velvet coats, frilly-lace shirts as well as gypsy skirts and gaucho pants to create a “mishmash” look for the fall, said Mr. Wolfe, who is based in New York.

“What you’re paying for is the attitude, the persona you want to create,” said Laura Atlas, a student at Bard High School in Manhattan who was shopping at an H&M; store and sporting glitter on her cheeks and a deep-red crushed velvet purse.

J.C. Penney Co. is among retailers that made the right fashion calls. “J.C. Penney is our top pick for back-to-school 2005,” wrote Deborah Weinswig, an analyst with Salomon Smith Barney in New York. Nordstrom is another winner in the school season, said Seattle’s Patricia Edwards, who helps manage about $5.7 billion including Nordstrom shares at Wentworth, Hauser & Violich.

“The consumer is really going to respond to the fashion I’m seeing,” she said. “I was amazed at what I saw go out the door” at Nordstrom.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is missing the trends, she said. Its offerings are “incredibly weak” with the exception of its trendy teen Mary-Kate and Ashley brand of clothing. “It didn’t seem like there was enough of the bohemian influence. There was no excitement to the denim.”

Analyst Todd Jones of Philadelphia’s PNC Advisors says fears about denim supplies are overblown. “If there are issues in denim they will probably stem from the teen retailers that are more focused on it than department stores,” he said. “It will be a solid season.”

The National Retail Federation is predicting that families with school-aged children will spend an average $443.77 on back-to-school items, down 8.2 percent from a year ago, as computer sales decline.

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