Although many industry analysts are predicting a flood of discounted denim in the third quarter, a growing number of consumers are willing - if not anxious - to spend $70 or more for a pair of jeans, new research has found.
 
A recent survey commissioned by Cotton Incorporated and conducted by Bellomy Research has explored the reasons behind the emerging trend for so-called "premium denim."
 
The survey revealed that while fashion may be the lure, fit is the hook.
 
Premium denim represents 3 per cent of the total denim market. However, the explosive 138 per cent growth in this niche sector over the past year indicates a tremendous opportunity for premium denim brands and retailers alike.
 
"New premium denim labels are entering the market every day," says Claire Dupuis, Cotton Incorporated senior trend forecaster. "It is difficult to pinpoint an exact number, but there are well over 300 hundred by my count," she adds.
 
With more than 300 premium denim brands on sale, just who, exactly, are the buyers?

To get a snapshot of this consumer, Cotton Inc and Bellomy Research interviewed 1,000 men and women in the US who spend more than $70 on denim items.

The results revealed that this customer is primarily female (78 per cent) and between the ages of 35 and 54 (60.1 per cent). She considers her fashion sense to be "cutting edge" (36 per cent) or at least "before most" (45 per cent). While an average consumer may own three pairs of jeans, the premium denim consumer may own as many as ten.
 
What motivates this consumer? By and large, the answer is fit. Eighty-five per cent of respondents cited fit as the most crucial factor in purchase intent.

"The respondents to our survey placed a substantially higher value on fit than they did on brand (7 per cent) or price (5 per cent)," explains Mark Messura, Cotton Incorporated vice president of strategic planning.

"In fact, the majority of respondents said that they would be willing to pay between 26 per cent and 28 per cent above current retail prices for the right fit," he adds.
 
Fashion staple
The burgeoning popularity of high-ticket jeans coincides with their acceptance at an increasingly wider range of occasions.

"In many ways, the premium jean is replacing the little black dress as the wear-anywhere fashion staple," says Dupuis.

The Cotton Incorporated survey concurs. A staggering 90 per cent of respondents say they would wear premium denim to a nice dinner or to go shopping; 80 per cent would wear it around the house or "just hanging out;" and 53 per cent would wear premium denim to school.
 
The majority (93.5 per cent) of premium denim purchases are made in stores and boutiques. Ironically, in this apparel niche so driven by fit, approximately 24 per cent respondents have enough confidence with the fit of their favourite jeans to order them online.

Brand confidence and brand loyalty are two separate issues, however. Although 85 per cent of those surveyed said they would buy again from a brand that provided an ideal fit, 84 per cent confessed that they would continue to experiment with other, unknown brands.
 
For retailers, August same-store results met expectations. This in spite of a denim basics overstock that threatened to deflate back-to-school sales.

However, many analysts contend that retailers with a strong assortment of premium denim will be better poised to reap total third quarter benefits.