Premium Denim is Not Dead


Torn "Glory" pocket

The media conversation about whether premium denim is worth the expense, and if the high end jeans market will sustain itself, is one which has been a constant for the past several years.

We first took notice of the debate in a 2006 op-ed from NY-based, which predicted the death of premium denim, based on a perceived closing of the gap between the quality of inexpensive and premium denim. One of their core arguments relied on American Apparel, seemingly unstoppable at the time, who was preparing to launch a fashion forward, made in U.S.A. denim line in the neighborhood of $60 (we all know how that story has gone). Last June, a Consumer Reports study comparing premium, mid-range, and inexpensive denim brands went as far as saying that “marketers might deserve a special place in hell for turning blue jeans into a luxury item”. Studying fabric shrinkage, fabric quality, and construction, they claimed there was not a huge difference between the price points, and concluded that consumers “pay a lot for fashion and hidden details. Buy what pleases you.”

Most recently, the Wall Street Journal revisited the debate in July, breaking down the line by line costs of a pair of True Religion Jeans, from fabric to hardware to labor, to explain why a pair of jeans might retail for as much as $375.00 or more. The Journal did a fine job of explaining how hard costs add up: premium denim companies source fabric, rivets, leather, and other materials, and then manufacture the final product here in the states. Based on a total of these costs, the companies set a wholesale price and a suggested retail price to the consumer.

But even these articles fail to consider some additional considerations that set premium denim apart.

First, all materials are not created equal. Much like you pay extra for organic produce in the grocery store or farmer’s market, the highest quality denim, with the best stretch recovery and structural integrity, fetches a premium price. Even if the construction is flawless, using a lower quality denim sacrifices quality. For HABITUAL, we source only the finest quality denims woven from the highest quality cotton.

Another factor is that “Made in the U.S.A.” does not necessarily mean “Handmade in the U.S.A.” If you have seen the video of our Glory pocket being made (2 minutes, edited down from what is actually a much longer process), true premium jeans are sewn by hand according to a very specific design specification. Even after the hand sewing is completed, we often add an additional wash process, hand whiskering, hand distressing, or other treatment such as coating that requires an additional expertise and craftsmanship.

While HABITUAL does have core styles that stay in the line for seasons, many of them get new washes, new finishes, new fabric treatments, and even new fits season to season. For most of the 20th century, blue jeans were made for work. Slowly, jeans became a staple of American style, and later, models like Brooke Shields made jeans into must have fashion items. We introduce a Fall, Holiday, Resort, and Spring line every year to keep up with the most current wants and needs of the consumer and remain relevant within trend cycles. A lot of time and work goes into the seasonality of premium denim. And getting these seasonal changes right requires a best in class design team (another expense) and the right sales team to get the product distributed (yet another expense). And this is all before a single dollar goes into marketing.

But beyond all of the expenses, there is an intangible, experiential element that the right pair of jeans brings. Much like having a really special meal, it is about more than just the taste of the food and the best ingredients. It’s a total experience, the care that goes into preparation and presentation, the service you receive in the restaurant, and the meaning you bring to the meal personally, as the meal invoked memories of childhood or brings you back to a first date. Our goal is for the HABITUAL brand to spark an emotional response, because the customer knows the dedication and care that goes into the whole production process.

This is why we are confident in the stability of the premium denim market. There will always be a consumer that demands the best quality denim from premium brands like HABITUAL, because they understand the value of having a high quality product where no expense is spared, and where all the elements matter. And there will always be the customer who enjoys the emotional experience of finding the perfect pair. Our hope is that the care we put into a pair of HABITUAL separates us not only from  less expensive denim brands, but from other premium lines as well.

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