In today’s dynamic world of retail, where macroeconomic challenges and fickle consumer whims are playing the lead roles, can True Religion jeans, once the rock star of premium denim, stage a comeback and dominate the scene again?
Founded in 2002 by Jeffrey Lubell, True Religion quickly gained popularity for its distinctive horseshoe stitching and bold designs. The brand positioned itself as a high-end denim label, targeting a niche market that sought both luxury and a rugged, rebellious aesthetic. However, shortly after gaining popularity as a consumer favorite, its swift decline ensued, ultimately prompting the company to file for bankruptcy in 2017.
Fast forward to today, True Religion is back in the saddle, raking in a reported $260 million in sales last year. Yet, rather than resting on its denim laurels, the brand is stitching together a new narrative, roping in consumers through fresh approaches, including some savvy wholesale partnerships.
In a conversation with Retail Bum, True Religion’s Executive Vice President of North American Wholesale Sales, Jim Kushner, delved into the denim maker’s strategy to cater to consumers and how the company is tuning into pivotal trends to drive sales.
“There’s a remarkable appetite and significant opportunity as consumers seek a tactile shopping experience. The desire to visit stores, touch and feel the products is prevalent, reminiscent of the trend of ‘going to the mall,’ which appears to be making a comeback, especially among younger individuals who had taken a break for a few years,” said Kushner.
What in-store experiences mean today
Considering this perspective, akin to True Religion, numerous other brands across various industry verticals are reassessing their in-store experiences.
Electronics retailer Best Buy, for one, has emphasized its reliance on brand partnerships with companies such as Lego, Therabody, and ŌURA to redefine in-store brand engagement. The company’s new engagement strategy now incorporates demonstrations, educational content, and digital interactions, creating an immersive storytelling experience.
“We continue to work closely with our vendor partners to add experiences to our stores,” said Best Buy CEO Corie Barry during a call with analysts on November 21, 2023. “For example, LEGO and Therabody invested in new shop-in-shops in all our 35,000 square foot experience stores. In addition, and as you would expect, many of our premium partners are continuously updating their in-store spaces to reflect their latest innovations. We will continue this work next year in all our stores, rightsizing a number of categories to ensure we are leveraging the space in the center of our stores in the most exciting, relevant, and efficient way possible.”
For True Religion, rethinking its physical store experience has meant relying on the insights of the in-store team to understand customer expectations for brand presentations. It has also meant collaborating with other brands to curate an enticing assortment of products that is meaningful to the customer base of both partnering brands. One recently announced collaboration was with Urban Outfitters, which offers products to customers at affordable price points, such as $39 tees, denim priced between $109 and $169, and sweaters and hoodies ranging from $89 to $190.
While affordability has been a critical focus, Kushner also underscored that True Religion has maintained its commitment to delivering premium quality.
Going the extra mile
Making the in-store shopping experience more engaging and meaningful for shoppers is no doubt imperative. However, more brands are now realizing the need to deliver a superior customer experience by customizing it to the local tastes of shoppers.
“Understanding the individual nuances and preferences of consumers for each specialty store is essential,” said Kushner. “We want to make sure we avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and ensure we’re not delivering a generic assortment that may or may not resonate everywhere; we need to adapt to each customer’s unique needs.”
In addition, it has become essential to explore new product categories, taking into account the challenges in the current business environment, said Kushner, pointing to the desire of both consumers and retailers to find the next new thing.
At the same time, there is value in staying in tune with contemporary trends — an approach that has greatly played to True Religion’s advantage. By introducing products such as cargos, wide-legged designs, and baggy silhouettes, the brand has experienced significant traction, particularly among enthusiasts of the Y2K trend, emphasizing logos, vibrant colors, low-rise waistlines, and denim-centric fabrics.
With that, these evolving preferences have enabled the brand to broaden its footprint in the non-denim sector, with a particular focus on activewear. Notably, the brand has succeeded with items like hoodies and other related apparel within this category.
“We’ve built a strong following, and we are dedicated to building upon this foundation,” said Kushner.
Photo credit: True Religion x Supreme