Denim does dollars

By DORIS HAJEWSKI

Knight Ridder News

Is it possible to have too many pairs of jeans?

The retail industry thinks not, at least not in this back-to-school season, when stores are filled with denim served up plain and fancy.

Pink embroidered butterflies, rhinestones and rivets are showing up on jeans, jackets and skirts for big and little girls. And in a continuation of a trend that started in spring, young shoppers are paying extra for jeans with artfully applied rips and tears, which are often premended with satin or floral chintz fabrics.

“I wear 'em everywhere, anywhere,” said Courtney Johnson of Wauwatosa, Wis., who will be a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee this fall. Johnson already owns one pair with rips, another trimmed in stripes, and she was checking out the new offering at Boston Store in Brookfield, Wis., recently.

As the back-to-school shopping season kicks off, several national surveys point to a moderation in overall spending this year. But at the same time, consumers say they will spend more on clothing for their kids.

A survey of 1,000 adults from July 8 to 11 by America's Research Group in Charleston, S.C., projects a 1.8 percent increase in spending this year. But the survey predicts a good apparel season for retailers, with 83.3 percent of responders saying they will spend more on clothes this year.

The National Retail Federation's annual survey predicts a 9.5 percent decline in back-to-school spending, to $13.39 billion, down from $14.79 billion last year. Most of the decrease will come in electronics purchases, after consumers splurged on computers, iPods and cell phones last year, according to the NRF.

The NRF survey shows that children will spend less of their own money on back-to-school items. But Sarah Draper, a 12-year-old seventh grader at Horning Middle School in Waukesha, Wis., will buck that trend. Sarah plans to help pay for her big school shopping list with money she earns by baby-sitting.

When it comes to jeans, Sarah's favorites this season are the ones trimmed with jewels.

Back in May, some retail analysts were worried that the industry was overloaded with denim. Several even downgraded the stocks of a few teen retailers that they feared had gone overboard on jeans.

But Eric Beder, an analyst with Brean Murray in New York who follows such teen retailers as Aeropostale, Bebe and Guess, said in an August report that denim is on a hot streak that he expects to continue through the fall season.

Bill Cody, managing director of the Baker Retailing Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, said: “There will be, at some time, a denim glut. You're not going to see it for back-to-school, but you will see it for the holidays.”