ANY SELF-RESPECTING SHOPPER has come to terms with the fact that denim is a bit of a fair-weather friend. At first, it seems the world of jeans is a consumer’s
oyster—endless washes, sizes and weights just begging to be tried on. But in the light of the dressing room, it rebuffs its would-be owner in a tug-of-war that inevitably leads to a pile on the floor and the buyer in a red-faced huff.
Most of the industry’s suppliers have chosen to avoid this scene altogether, offering denim by way of button-down shirts, hats, aprons and the like. However, with the current move toward more fashion-forward initiatives for the promotional apparel segment, how much longer can the industry hold out? According to Jeff Comstock, marketing manager for Grand Rapids, Michigan-based One Stop, “Our sales history shows that the denim category is one that comes and goes, but never really leaves the industry.” So, is denim due for a redux in 2008, or is its stagnation simply a consequence of the industry’s status quo? The answer, of course, is anybody’s guess, but in the meantime, here’s a look at two possible directions for this fashion’s future.
THIS WAY: REDEFINE DENIM’S PLACE IN THE INDUSTRY
The retail market for jeans just keeps growing in terms of both the number of companies that have added a denim line, as well as the various designs available, but jeans have yet to find a niche as a promotional product. Comstock discussed an overwhelming reason for this: An item people are exceedingly fickle about can’t survive in an environment that relies on quick turnaround times and
well-stocked staples to move product.
“With jeans, there are so many sizes, fits and styles to take into account, that it would be close to impossible to narrow down what to have manufactured and keep in stock at any given time,” he explained.
However, it’s not stopping some suppliers from at least entertaining the idea. Saasha Campbell, customer service manager at Veltex Apparel in City of Industry, Calif., maintained the company is planning on extending its denim line. “We mostly carry apparel goods [for] the waist up, so we’re going to start introducing just a couple of items from the waist down,” she said. Though it’s not overly practical to expect promotional apparel to emulate retail stores’ unending variety, it might be fruitful to begin looking into whether or not end-buyers would be interested in trendier choices.
For One Stop, at least, the laws of supply and demand could dictate a more stylish take on denim. While the fabric is experiencing bit of a slump presently, Comstock affirmed, “When denim starts to pick up, we do believe that additional styles will be needed to grow the denim category. … There is talk of a few new washes that may be offered to our industry.”
THAT WAY: CONTINUE PROVIDING THE ESSENTIALS
Although new washes and designs have trend potential, when considering what makes tidal waves in the mainstream fashion world, it’s certainly not denim button-down shirts. Yet this style is the workhorse of the promotional apparel sector. Campbell noted the company’s ladies’ button-down sells consistently, not to mention a survey of popular suppliers’ Web sites reveals no shortage of similar styles. In fact, the button-down is the token denim offering for many companies. The old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” comes to mind, and perhaps this is just denim’s destiny as an ad specialty item.
Similarly, “old faithful” hues are staying the course, thanks to denim’s long-standing association with
its iconic shade. While suppliers such as Bodek and Rhodes have numerous offerings in colors including yellow, forest green and pink, it is rather unsurprising Campbell reports the color blue as being the big
pull for Veltex. “The light indigo is the main seller. Black, we actually discontinued, it just wasn’t moving,” she said, adding, “When people think
of denim, they’re either thinking of the light or the
In addition to showcasing old-standby light-blue denim in sales pitches, to help things along even further for an item that is such an industry standard, Comstock suggested bringing garments along so the customer can feel the fabric’s texture. “The best way we have found to sell the denim category is to give out samples, decorate it and wear it to the correct customer on a sales presentation,” he said.
The tried-and-true certainly is working in denim, but whether it’s for the time being or forever remains to be seen. As for the fabric’s future foothold in the promotional apparel arena, there’s only one “sure thing” suppliers and distributors can count on: Comstock’s analysis, “It is a wait-and-see game as to where the denim market is going to take us.”