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BIG STRETCH

Even Levi’s is succumbing to the sweatpants trend

People pass by a Levi Strauss store in New York City
Reuters/Brendan McDermid
Levi's is finding success selling sweats.
  • Marc Bain
By Marc Bain

Fashion reporter

Published

Levi’s, the global leader in denim, sees a bright future in sweatpants.

For years, the company has been adding more stretch to its jeans so they could better compete on comfort with items like leggings and yoga pants. The pandemic has meant shoppers stuck at home are putting even greater emphasis on being comfortable. Levi’s has responded with looser-fitting denim styles and a line of sweatpants and sweatshirts the company says represents a “significant opportunity” for the future.

While Levi’s has sold the occasional sweatshirt before, it launched a line called Red Tab sweats late last year. Yesterday, on the company’s earnings call for its recent quarter, CEO Chip Bergh said the “Gen Z-focused pilot collection” sold out in weeks. “That went really, really well,” he said. “If you look at what the kids are wearing today, that’s what they’re wearing, and that represents a significant opportunity for us as well.”

Levi’s is planning a bigger collection for this year.

Covid-19 has bruised many clothing companies, including makers of jeans. Though denim has the benefit of being casual, it can also be restrictive and less than ideal for sitting in for long periods. Retailers, meanwhile, have reported strong sales of activewear, which is useful for at-home workouts but also a favorite option of shoppers for working from home.

Companies such as Lululemon have benefitted. Though its sales fell at the outset of the pandemic last year, they have rebounded, and in the quarter through Nov. 1, were up 22% versus the same time the year before. That included a 19% rise in North America, its largest market.

While Levi’s also bounced back some in its recent quarter, ended Nov. 29, sales were still down 12% (pdf). Sales in the Americas, Levi’s largest market, also fell 12%.

Bergh said Levi’s has had success with certain styles of jeans, calling out roomier fits in particular. A “loose straight fit” Levi’s introduced for men and women has been selling well, he said, as the once-dominant skinny jean continues to cede ground to other silhouettes. “I think it’s here to stay,” he said of the fuller cut. “I don’t think [the] skinny jean is ever going away on the women’s side of the business, but there’s definitely a trend towards more casual, looser fitting clothes in general.”

Levi’s has also been increasing its sales of tops, accessories, and other items. The company, in fact, expects in the next decade that half its sales will eventually be items other than jeans. That seems likely to include more sweatshirts and sweatpants, too.

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