image: Marina Faust

image: Marina Faust

Take a walk around almost any city in America and you will see a least one wardrobe staple among women – young and not-so-young: Leggings. Over the past decade, the stretchy workout pant, which had for years been limited to a life inside the gym, has replaced the traditional pair of jeans as casualwear for hordes of females, enabling brands like Lululemon and Nike to reach a whole new demographic of women by outfitting them en mass as part of the seasonal trend-turned-bona fide apparel category called athleisure.

In accordance with this widespread every-day adoption of athleisure wares – which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use” – the market’s classic sportswear brands, the ones most apt at turning out work-out style wares, have profited significantly. As the trend solidified as a lasting sartorial statement, the Nikes of the world were joined by lifestyle and fashion brands and even celebrity-fronted collections, which introduced activewear lines in an attempt to bank on the frequency of athleticwear turning up outside of the gym. 

But now, following years of the full-blown athleisure craze, some analysts are saying that this highly lucrative market segment has reached its saturation point and as a result, sales are beginning to slow.

As Shelly Banjo noted in her column for Bloomberg Gadfly, “Activewear is getting overstretched.” The sales of traditional sportswear giants, such as Under Armour and Lululemon, are starting to fall when it comes to stretchy leggings and crop tops, says Banjo, while “discounters Walmart and Target are pushing further into sportswear, and fast-fashion retailers like Forever 21 and H&M getting in the game” are causing prices to come down. 

Paired with this early stage fatigue of athleticwear has come a renewed interest in denim. In addition to jumps in revenue for Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, big-name mall brands, such as Madewell, Abercrombie, and the Gap, have attributed some of their late 2017 growth to increased demand for jeans, giving rise to projections that good old denim is expected to make a triumphant return to grace.

Just ask Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger’s parent company PVH, whose CEO Manny Chirico, said in an earnings call last month that denim has showed “incredible improvement” for its labels in 2017. In particular, Chirico said that Calvin Klein jeans showed “tremendous strength and outsized growth above our average order book growth.” Levi’s denim line is demonstrative of this, as well. The American jeans giant reported an 8 percent increase in revenue for 2017, the largest it has seen in a decade. 

In a call with investors, Abercrombie CEO Fran Horowitz also expressed growth in connection with an increase in denim sales across its brands, especially at Hollister, which had “a record year” in denim sales.

Meanwhile, on the runways, where the mainstream market agenda is set, denim has certainly made a comeback, with labels like Vetements and even Dolce & Gabbana, as recently as its 2018 Alta Moda couture show, placing significant emphasis on jeans. Given the industry’s obsession with nostalgia and archival looks, a full blown resurgence of America’s traditional casual pants of choice is almost certainly upon us, whether it be roomy Martin Margiela-inspired jeans or traditional Levi’s.