Examining the jean pool

You can never own too many pairs of jeans.
That seems to be the thinking of late with such a vast selection of denim on the market - from Brazilian cut to embroidered to the dreaded acid wash.
The jeans market is doing very well in Canada, according to Randy Harris, of Toledo, Ohio-based Trendex North America. Harris says sales of jeans have been climbing steadily in Canada over the last 10 years and they have always been a staple in the Canadian wardrobe. According to Trendex, in 2001, Canadian women spent almost $600,000 on jeans while men spent $650,000.

You can never own too many pairs of jeans.

That seems to be the thinking of late with such a vast selection of denim on the market – from Brazilian cut to embroidered to the dreaded acid wash.

The jeans market is doing very well in Canada, according to Randy Harris, of Toledo, Ohio-based Trendex North America. Harris says sales of jeans have been climbing steadily in Canada over the last 10 years and they have always been a staple in the Canadian wardrobe. According to Trendex, in 2001, Canadian women spent almost $600,000 on jeans while men spent $650,000.

Harris divides the Canadian market for the garments into three categories: traditional brands like Wrangler and Levi’s; higher fashion, overnight success brands; and private label brands like Bluenotes. The top brand for men for fiscal 2001 was Levi’s, which captured 21.7% of total market share, while for women, the top players were private labels by Zellers, Sears and Wal-Mart (21.2%), with Zellers on top at 9.5%.

Harris notes the women’s denim market is more competitive as there are more brands and styles to choose from. Private labels have been gaining the most, he says, because many retailers in Canada have placed more emphasis on them than bigger brands, in an attempt to distinguish themselves from competitors.

David Howell, VP of NPD Group Canada, says that 77% of jeans sold in Canada are under $38. Thus, fashion brands like Mavi and Guess, along with a spate of others, which retail for $48 and up, are all competing for 20% of the business. No wonder then, that fashion brands would seek to enhance their prominence through ad visibility. The ad market has been inundated with denim on public transit, billboards and in the five-pound fashion bible that is the September issue of Vogue. Gap is going back to its roots with the broad-based ‘For Every Generation’ campaign, while others, like Diesel, Parasuco and even Levi’s are going after youth by touting the idea that the rebel wears jeans.

While Montreal-based Diesel Canada offers a range of clothing, denim is at the core of their product. Known for irreverent advertising and fashion-forward styles, the company raked in close to $880 million worldwide last year.

Channeling the angle of uniqueness, Diesel’s creative team assembled Denim Galleries in New York and Tokyo to showcase their jeans, where customers can admire and buy exclusive, one-of-a-kind jeans made by top fashion designers like Karl Lagerfeld. Just as no two works of art are alike, no two pairs of jeans in the Denim Galleries are the same. Each goes through extensive washing and aging treatments to give it a worn-in look. The end result is a super-limited-edition jean that is hung from a steel structure alongside captions that list its special features. The total price? Anywhere from $400 to $600 for a single pair.

Diesel’s unique approach to marketing extends to its newest ad campaigns. The protest-themed ‘Action! For Successful Living’ campaign, consisting of black-and-white billboard and print ads, launched in August. Developed by the Diesel creative team and Dutch agency KesselsKramer, it focuses on the rebellious nature of the brand.

Says Marisa Guerrera, advertising and P.R. manager for Diesel Canada: ‘The goal of the campaign is to encourage people to take a stand and speak out for something they feel is important. It can be something as amusing as ‘Legalize the four-day weekend’ or as suggestive as ‘Plant more flowers.” Guerrera says all Diesel campaigns are unique, fusing together the product with a certain lifestyle, and in this case it’s that of the proactive rebel.

Parasuco is another brand that has been making waves with its ad campaigns. The 27-year-old Montreal-based company specializes in jeans and produced over three million garments in 2002, most of which were denim. The Parasuco fall campaign consists of transit creative in major Canadian cities and print ads in Canadian and American fashion magazines.

The in-house effort features a model wearing Parasuco jeans in a series of suggestive poses, one of them showing the model peering from behind a cage. The depiction of a sexed-up fantasy world goes too far for some people in Toronto (one of the cities posting outdoor advertising), who have found the ads too racy and have lodged complaints to Advertising Standards Canada, says Tuti Do, marketing and communications director for Parasuco. However, the company is no stranger to controversy. The brand’s spring 2001 campaign, which featured very low low-rise jeans, garnered its own share of complaints on the streets of T.O.

The buzzwords of the latest campaign are ‘Denim Cult,’ inspired by the obsessive following of the brand, says Do, noting that the Parasuco brand has an element of danger associated with it: A rash of robberies dating back to 1998 in Prince George County, Md. involved so-called ‘Parasuco Bandits,’ who raided stores in search of the brand. The bandits were featured on the show America’s Most Wanted.

Do says this edgy air has helped, not hindered the brand. While she won’t divulge sales figures, she says the controversy ‘has been highly successful for us.’

‘Every season, we try to outdo ourselves,’ says Do. ‘We’re always trying to find new ways to be innovative.’

Parasuco has also dressed trendsetters of the moment, mainly music stars, in its gear, recently clothing members of pop group *NSync for August’s MTV Video Music Awards, and Alicia Keys wore Parasuco jeans in her Woman’s Worth video. And Parasuco has dressed Canadian celebs such as rocker Bif Naked and rapper Kardinal Offishall.

The Gap has been using celebrities in its ads for a few years. Its ‘For Every Generation’ jeans campaign, conceived by New York’s Laird + Partners, features sometimes prominent, sometimes obscure, musicians, actors and models that run the gamut from country music legend Willie Nelson to up- and-coming actor Taryn Manning. According to agency president Trey Laird, they chose both young and old personalities with a ‘highly defined individual style’ to ‘reflect the connection that people of all ages have with Gap.’ Laird says they worked with each person to create their own individual Gap jeans look.

Sussan Burton, account manager at strategic youth marketing company Batcave, says that with clothing going casual in the social sphere, the Gap has positioned casual wear for the mass market. Meanwhile, more obscure jeans brands like Ecko and Fubu out of New York have marketed their wares to youth by attaching themselves to hip hop and skate culture. For example, Ecko has worked with Canadian rapper Choclair, while Fubu enlisted LL Cool J to rhyme about its clothing in a TV spot. ‘They went to the bands and the music that kids see and identify with to stay truthful to who they represent,’ says Burton.

What of the old standbys Levi’s? Despite declining sales over the past five years, it seems the worst may be over. According to Trendex’s Harris, Levi’s Canada reached the bottom of the market curve and is now coming back, with the help of new management. He says their marketing strategies are on the money as well. ‘They’re redesigning their ads to become relevant to younger consumers.’

Gritty new ads for Levi’s, done by London, U.K.-based agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty include the recent commercial ‘French Dictionary,’ starring actor of the moment Gael Garcia Bernal of Mexican film Y Tu Mamá También. Harris stresses, though, that Levi’s can’t try to be too young and hip because they will never be that. ‘They can’t become one-night wonders,’ says Harris, referring to trendy, fly-by-night jean brands. ‘They have to become a basic item in younger people’s wardrobes.’

Harris says that overall, jeans sales will continue at a steady pace, as long as manufacturers continue to reinvent the product. But when there’s so much choice, how do brands break through and reach new denim-wearers without alienating their loyal customers? We asked some industry heavyweights for their insight.

James Lee, CD, Palmer Jarvis DDB, Vancouver

My sense of fashion advertising is that it seems to be devoid of ideas because a lot of times, a picture of a model in the clothing will suffice. I guess that’s good enough for this category.

My problem with that is it can lead to the contemptible side of advertising where you’re playing on the insecurities of other people. Like the Parasuco stuff – that, to me, is the worst kind of visual pollution and I think that’s one of the reasons why people don’t like ads. It may sell pants, but I don’t see any reason why you can’t sell pants and have a good idea at the same time. My guess is that you’d actually sell more pants if you do that for jeans.

[With spots like, Levi's 'Twist' and Wrangler 'Whatever You Ride' from the U.K.], there’s beautiful imagery that can transcend advertising and become a piece of cinema art. There’s an attitude and an aesthetic and a message they can attach themselves to that isn’t in the Parasuco work where it’s just a girl wearing jeans.

Chris Campbell, CD of corporate branding, Interbrand Tudhope

In terms of the Gap’s campaign, they’re focusing on the right thing, which is all about being an individual. They’ve been criticized by others for recycling an idea they did at the height of their growth: ‘Everybody in….’ The tonality of [the current campaign] is bang on. They’re quite careful about what type of celebrities they put into their campaign. They’re people who are interesting, and people who are about being individuals.

Whereas Gap is a mass-market brand, Diesel is going after an urban market. It’s a targeted approach – urban twentysomethings. [The 'Action!' campaign is] brilliant because it’s all a huge joke. It’s really smart how they do it, very humorous. They have this whole ‘Free the goldfish’ protest. It’s irreverent and it’s smart and hip. And the line, ‘For successful living…’ is a huge parody of the fashion industry.

It’s anti-fashion fashion – it parodies the very industry that it’s in. It’s effective, given the demographic they’re going after – they’re a little bit cynical. They don’t pander to their audience. They know that everyone is media savvy and totally aware of all the tricks of advertising.

Sussan Burton, account manager, Batcave, Toronto

When [brands such as Fubu and Ecko] first started, you didn’t see their advertising everywhere. They didn’t try to fit themselves into every corner of the market – and they’ve been careful where they place their advertising. They said, ‘This is who we are, this is who we identify with, and we’re going to grow ourselves organically through the people.’ With the Gap – they’re so pervasive and so everywhere. [For kids], it’s a turnoff, but you’re still probably going to buy at least one pair of Gap jeans because they’re cheap and it’s easy to buy them and they’ll fit. But what youth are really going to desire is the [brand] that not everybody has.