Some weeks ago, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire, giving my opinion about near-term denim pants retail sales. As my clients will be the first to tell you, my knowledge of marketing is somewhat below Zilch. However, I do have knowledge of the global industry, and under the circumstances, I thought it more appropriate for me to provide relevant data about the current state of U.S. denim pants (jeans) imports, in the hope that those of you who are marketing specialists may use this information to make your own, more educated conclusions.
All of the data for this article comes directly from the U.S. Government Office of Textile and Apparel. It is freely available from the OTEXA website. I would also say that it is probably the most accurate and complete garment trade data available any where in the world.[i]
Now to business
The Denim Decline
Walking down any street in any city in the U.S., you might think that at least half the people you pass are wearing blue denim pants (jeans) This may well be true. Perhaps despite the best efforts of the hi-tech denim-garment-distress industry, jeans still last longer than other types of cotton pants and therefore require fewer replacements. On the other hand, this perception may be the result of some alien induced mass hallucination.
Whatever the cause, I can assure you that once again perception has proven wrong.
The truth is that jeans represents a relatively small and diminishing share of cotton trouser imports. As you can see from the chart below, jeans share of cotton pants as measured by units peaked in 2009 at 35% and each year thereafter ending in year to date June 2014 (the latest date for which data is available) when jeans share fell to a record low of 23% of total cotton pants imports.
Imports by value show a more optimistic picture (as we will see below) due entirely to substantially rising FOB price, post 2010. Jeans share peaked in 2009 at 41%, only to fall each successive year until YTD 06-14 when it reached 29.2%
As we can clearly see from the next Graph, U.S. imports of cotton trousers both in units and by value have been trending up during the past three years while imports of have been stagnant or falling
It is a little early to suggest that Americans have ended their 141-year love affair with jeans. However, based on the most recent data if I were in the denim business, I would not plan expanding my operation in the near future.
Jeans by Gender
Almost all garment products are gender orientated. Surprisingly so too are jeans; although we have to examine sourcing data to see just how important is gender.
Men’s jeans imports is dominated by Mexico, which accounts for a 49% market share. China with an 11% market share is a distant second. Total cotton-pants imports shows a slightly different picture. Mexico is still the U.S. leading supplier with a 31% market share, but both China and Bangladesh are moving up, currently both with 16% market shares.
Women’s jeans imports shows a very different picture
China is in a dominant position with a 43% market share. No one else reaches double digits. Mexico is second at 9.6%.
I can offer no definitive explanation why Mexico dominates men’s jeans, while China is number one in women’s jeans. Certainly the VF operations in Mexico is an important factor. At the same time, fashion element in women’s jeans may favor China. However this is only speculation.
Men’s FOB prices show consistent increases from 2006 to the present. The declines in 2009-2010 were due entirely to the recession and were offset by substantial increases in 2011. Of all major exporters, only Mexico is showing some resistance to FOB price increases.
Price trends for women’s cotton pants showed declines from 2006, leading to a severe drop in 2009-2010 due to the recession, which was followed by sharp increase in 2011 followed once again by gradual declines. As of YTD 06-14, FOB prices are well below those for 2006. The notable exceptions here are Mexico and Vietnam. Mexico is most unusual. While on average FOB prices for men’s jeans are 10% higher than for women’s, Mexico has reversed the general price relationship with FOB prices for women’s jeans at a 54% premium over made-in-Mexico women’s jeans. My guess is that once again VF Corp is the determining factor.
The Cotton Pants Season
They tell us, “To everything there is a season”
Why should cotton pants be any different?
In fact cotton pants has very definite and extreme seasons and more interestingly, the season appear to be reversed. I would have thought that cotton pants was predominantly a Spring season item (where imports cleared customs January-March); not Fall season item (where imports clear customs May-August. Wrong!
As we can see from the graph below M&B cotton pants do not enjoy a strong Spring. W&G on the other hand, have a better Spring, but a shorter Fall.
 For those of you who wish to re-confirm the data, the following is a list of relevant HTS numbers