The Promise of a Supermodel Figure Shapes up Levi’s Presence in Women’s Jeans

Endless legs, a flat stomach and a shapely derriere – this is the promise of Levi’s new Revel range of figure-enhancing jeans, set to launch in August this year. A push in the direction of a more supermodel- like figure would appear to be the right approach to capturing the attention of the elusive female consumer, who Levi’s has long been chasing.

As of 2012, the company derived 72% of its net sales from men’s products thanks to the rough and tough appeal of its iconic 501s, as well as an entire brand (Dockers) dedicated only to men. Having witnessed a strong performance in Q2 2013 off the back of improved sales and cost reduction, it is evident that improving its position in the women’s category is where most opportunity now lies.

Function trumps fashion in targeting women

Euromonitor International has already identified two potential directions the company could take to cater for women. The first is closer alignment with prevalent fashion trends, notably capitalising on the ongoing demand for coloured, printed and textured denim. The second is further targeted products in the same vein as its highly successful Curve ID line.

Success in the fashion-focused space is questionable due to a sense of prevalent market polarisation. Levi’s namesake brand may not be able to muster the same sex appeal as players like J Brand at the super-premium end or match the competitive prices of fast fashion brands like Zara, which are gaining traction in economy jeans.

The product innovation route certainly holds more potential for a brand like Levi’s, with its unrivalled denim expertise. In fact, product innovation is vital in the jeans business due to the ease of substitutability. Parallels can be drawn with major sportswear brands Nike and adidas, whose innovation and high-quality premium products are driving sales, which also make them less prone to discounting.

Technical sophistication backs figure-flattering claims

Nonetheless, Levi has not made any significant moves in this respect since the launch of its Curve ID range, which has sold more than eight million pairs since its launch in 2010. Revel certainly continues the narrative of Curve ID, but moves from simply figure-enhancing to figure-shaping, in a Spanx-like fashion. The secret is a patent-pending “liquid-shaping technology” which is strategically incorporated in problem areas on the jeans, which themselves are made from a four-way stretch fabric.

It is true that the concept of marrying shapewear with denim is nothing new. Not Your Daughter’s Jeans (NYDJ) debuted its patented ‘Tummy Tuck’ technology all the way back in 2005. But it is also true that the desire for figure-flattering products clearly transcends all age brackets, and Revel aims to target a younger demographic than NYDJ’s late 40s. The shape-enhancing proposition may also be more successful than the
cosmetic textile approach used by Wrangler in its Denim Spa collection, as
consumers remain hesitant about the efficacy of the latter.

Pricing and distribution add to premium positioning

Revel also gives the company access to higher price segments. With prices ranging from US$98-128, marginally higher than Curve ID, the product falls into the premium segment, in which Levi’s currently has a negligible share in the US. This price segment is set to see the greatest absolute gains over the next five years after standard jeans, in which, with a 21% share of the US market, Levi’s already has a strong foothold.

US Jeans Market Size and Prospects 2012-2017

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Source: Euromonitor International

Distribution is set to be global, but tightly controlled – being sold in only Levi’s own-brand stores in order to provide a high level of service and information about the range. This move also dovetails with the company’s gradual shift away from the wholesale channel.

With desire for the ideal figure far from falling out of fashion, Revel could be the miracle product Levi’s needs to step up its presence in women’s jeans – provided it really does deliver on its promises.