In the 50s, jeans, as personified by James Dean, were a symbol of rebellion; in the 60s, they stood for the anti-establishment, in the 70s, self-expression. In the 80s and 90s they were key to the casual look. Now, they are ubiquitous, from the playground to the catwalk. Even the most-hardened fashionistas have succumbed: Sarah Jessica Parker, the epitome of New York uber-chic in Sex and the City, has created a clothing line called Bitten that includes an affordable pair, while supermodel Heidi Klum is set to replace Liz Hurley as the face of the fashionable US Jordache brand.
Boot-cut, skinny, hipsters, boyfriend-cut, wide leg, straight leg, loose, classic - and, dare one say it, flares. When it comes to jeans, there's no shortage of styles to tempt consumers into denim. Once considered the preserve of casual occasions, jeans have infiltrated all areas of fashion, with a designer pair a must-have for the celebrity set.
The market has consequently been performing well. Supermarkets and high-street retailers have added own-label ranges and volume sales have responded accordingly. Jeans are now a wardrobe staple for all but the oldest consumers, and have become a more frequent purchase as fashion dictates a constantly changing variety of cuts and styles. Lower prices also mean shoppers are more willing to buy in to the latest looks.
The market is expected to reach £1.5bn this year, up 4% on 2006, according to Mintel. This equates to about 86m pairs of jeans - an average of 1.5 pairs a year for every man, woman and child in the UK. The sheer choice of prices and styles also means people have become more likely to own multiple pairs.
Catwalk trends are being turned into high-street reality far quicker these days as manufacturers speedily turn around the latest styles. Skinny jeans ruled in 2006 thanks to the look championed by model Kate Moss, although it was not a cut that suited all body shapes. Aimed predominantly at teenage girls and young women, it did not help to pull older shoppers into the sector.
Although older age groups do wear jeans, they do not buy pairs as frequently as younger consumers and are rarely targeted in marketing. Despite the rising obesity rate, the plus-size group is also largely uncatered for.
There are some notable differences between the shopping habits and preferences of men and women. Men are more likely to seek out the reassurance of brands they know and are willing to spend more for this, although they tend to then keep those jeans for longer. The average price for men's jeans is £20.83 compared with £16.80 for women's.
The rise of the ethical consumer has directed the spotlight onto the conditions that allow clothes to be available so cheaply, such as exploitative production practices and travel miles for imports.
This trend has been picked up on by some retailers, with Marks & Spencer adding organic and Fairtrade products, while manufacturers including Levi's have added ethical lines to their range. Tesco, meanwhile, has signed up designer Katherine Hamnett to create a range of ethical clothing that will include Fairtrade organic jeans.
New labels tapping into this area have also emerged, such as organic fashion brand Hug, which claims to have produced the UK's first Fairtrade-certified jeans.
The high street has been rather busier capitalising on consumers' obsession with celebrities, hooking up with stars to produce clothing ranges, Kate Moss with Top Shop and Madonna with H&M being the highest-profile most recent examples.
Levi's remains the leading jeans brand, but its market share declined by 12% between 2004 and 2006, as strong competition has emerged, particularly from market entrants such as G-Star and Juicy Jeans.
Levi's constantly evolves its range, and offers cuts from its twisted-seam Engineered jeans to its classic Red Tab design. Recent innovations have included ankle zips in its skinny jeans to make them tighter, while in the US it has unveiled iPod-compatible RedWire DLX Jeans, complete with attached headphones.
Diesel has performed well by introducing new styles for both men and women, as well as maintaining its popular lines from last season such as its slim fit. It has kept its cutting-edge feel while retaining a diverse children's range.
Gap, in comparison, has lacked a coherent strategy, unable to decide whether to target the fashion end of the market or position itself as a store for cheaper basics. It has more than 130 stores in the UK, but in Europe it pulled out of Germany completely. A sizeable boost could come from the reported plan to roll out its successful US Banana Republic brand in the UK next year.
Reflecting the optimism of the market, Wrangler, which has a rather more rugged positioning than many of its rivals, opened its first flagship store in London in March. It also relaunched its women's line under the Blue Bella name.
While the nature of fashion trends mean the jeans market is always at risk of falling from favour, Mintel does not see this happening in the near future and predicts that the UK market will grow by 38% between 2007 and 2012 to reach £2.1bn. Of this, the men's jean market is expected to contribute £1.1bn, up 33%, compared with a 48% rise for women's jeans, taking its value to £846m. More-over, factors such as growth in consumers' personal disposable income across the board as well as a rise in the market's core buying group of 20- to 34-year-olds all bode well.
JEANS MANUFACTURERS BY SALES AND MARKET SHARE
2006 2004 04-06
pounds m % pounds m % % chng
1 Levi Strauss 174.0 12.0 198.0 15.0 -12.1
2 Marks & Spencer 116.0 8.0 118.0 9.0 -1.7
3 Diesel 87.0 6.0 79.2 6.0 9.8
4 Next 82.7 5.7 79.2 6.0 4.4
5 Lee 66.7 4.6 66.0 5.0 1.1
6 Wrangler 60.9 4.2 59.4 4.5 2.5
7 CK Jeans 58.0 4.0 66.0 5.0 -12.1
8 Falmer 43.5 3.0 46.2 3.5 -5.8
9 Gap 36.3 2.5 39.6 3.0 -8.5
10 Easy 30.5 2.1 33.0 2.5 -7.7
11 Lee Cooper 26.1 1.8 26.4 2.0 -1.1
Own-label 353.8 24.4 250.8 19.0 41.1
Other brands 314.7 21.7 257.4 19.5 22.2
Total 1450 100 1319 100 9.9
JEANS MANUFACTURERS BY ADSPEND (pounds)
1 Levi Strauss 1,009,728 5,157,814
2 GPS (Great Britain) 568,635 n/a
3 Pepe Jeans 341,691 137,188
4 Replay Fashions 229,380 188,277
5 Calvin Klein Fashions 183,919 325,086
6 Diesel 101,770 59,795
7 G-Star Fashions 84,217 61,088
8 Lee Apparel 79,291 85,862
9 Harrods 78,647 n/a
10 Donna Karan Fashions 61,017 104,564
11 Giorgio Armani Fashions 56,124 163,946
12 Moschino Fashions 55,813 47,393
13 Prada Jeans 43,436 n/a
14 Guess Jeans 38,508 47,017
Other 325,749 710,104
Total 3,257,925 7,088,134
Source: Nielsen Media Research/Mintel
ANALYST COMMENT - SANDY LIVINGSTONE DIRECTOR, ENLIGHTENMENT
Calvin Klein's entry into the jeans market, effectively creating the designer category in the early-80s, and Tesco's legal victory over Levi's in 2001, which gave it the right to sell the brand at what was then regarded as ridiculously low prices, are perhaps the two most significant events in the end of the traditional mass jeans market.
As fashion has become less formal in recent years, jeans have moved up the sartorial hierarchy - or rather, the top-end designer versions have - and older age groups, who first adopted jeans as fashionwear in the 60s, have maintained their loyalty.
The market has thus become more stretched demographically than ever before, leading to greater segmentation in the market. For example, while over-65s constituted less than 2% of jeans buyers 20 years ago, that proportion has now grown to more than 5%, according to TGI. This has led younger consumers to adopt new designer versions in an attempt to differentiate themselves.
So, while many consumers want designer jeans that show off their individuality, a pair of jeans for all occasions is also increasingly a wardrobe must, and manufacturers need to be able to position themselves as being the provider to at least one of those levels. And they need to be able to do so at significant enough volume or unit price to make it worthwhile in what has become a highly competitive market.
While jeans remain a resilient fashion item that continues to be an easy route to buying identity and credibility, brands have to work very hard to retain their edge in their chosen market, as those older customers potentially dilute the 'coolness' of the product.