Levi's hopes to reverse denim decline with stretch, vintage

Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:02am EDT
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By Emma Thomasson

ROME (Reuters) - Levi Strauss & Co, the company that invented blue jeans in 1873, is hoping to revive its business by launching a new women's range with more stretch to compete with yoga pants, tapping into vintage fashion and pushing more accessories.

Privately owned by the descendents of the family of Levi Strauss, the firm is still the world's biggest denim brand ahead of VF Corp's Wrangler's and Lee labels. But it has been in decline for years as competition has mounted from luxury, discount and mass fashion brands, compounded by the rising popularity of sportswear as a casual alternative to jeans.

James Curleigh, president of the Levi's brand, said Levi's was seeking to connect with younger consumers by adjusting its designs to their tastes, by adding more stretch and tapering legs as well as tapping into the music scene, including teaming up with singer Alicia Keys for the launch of its women's collection in July.

"Our women's business has never been stronger than it is right now," Curleigh told Reuters at the World Retail Congress. "It is back. It's in growth mode. No-one traded their entire wardrobe for yoga pants."

"We know that if someone goes into a pair of Levi's they tend to stay with us for a really long time, but we have to make that initial reconnection," he said.

Total sales of jeans in the United States fell 5 percent in the year ending May 2015, data from information group NPD showed. But they increased 2 percent among the group of 18-34 year-old consumers dubbed "millennials" by marketers.

The size of the global jeans market could grow to almost $143 billion in 2019 from nearly $102 billion in 2014, data firm Euromonitor predicts, with most growth coming from developing markets. The global sportswear market is almost three times as big.

As it seeks a bigger market share, Levi's wants to win customers by promoting the durability of its products.   Continued...

Pedestrians cross a street near a Levi's retail store across from Union Square in San Francisco, California May 15, 2013.   REUTERS/Robert Galbraith