Wrangler, Lee Bet on Pop Culture Moments

Kontoor Brands’ Q1 earnings call last week shed light on how the owner of two of the world’s oldest jeans brands, Wrangler and Lee, takes a multi-pronged approach to stay on Gen Z’s radar.

Product, partnerships, and social media are key.

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Citing data from The NPD Group (now Circana), Scott Baxter, Kontoor Brands’ president, CEO and chairman, said Wrangler and Lee continue to outpace both the market and largest competitor in terms of share. On a 12-month basis, he said Wrangler and Lee men’s bottoms have grown 10 percent and 8 percent respectively, “significantly beating the market of 1 percent growth.”

Wrangler’s denim bottoms for men outperformed its largest competitor by more than 300 basis points, while the brand’s denim bottoms for women outpaced the largest competitor by over 90 basis points. Lee’s long bottom business for men and women has also seen gains.

“We are unequivocally driving competitive separation in the market as we enhance our core through investments in innovation, elevated design and demand creation,” Baxter said.

Non-denim bottoms present their own set of opportunities for Kontoor. Globally non-denim long bottoms grew 15 percent in the quarter, highlighting young consumers’ interest in cargo pants and other types of trousers.

Baxter said efforts to connect with Gen Z are paying off.

Lee’s social community grew 255 percent year-over-year in Q1, he said. The strategies drove 62 percent growth in social traffic to Lee’s e-commerce site during the quarter. The brand is also benefitting from high-profile celebrity placement for its Rider jacket in Q1 and collaborations with culturally relevant brands, including a recent partnership with Dragon Ball Z and a China-exclusive collaboration with 7Up.

“These collabs demonstrate the brand’s leading position in the market,” Baxter said, adding that Lee will release a collaboration with Japanese toy company Bearbrick and will sponsor the classic hip-hop festival, Rock the Bells, in August.

Wrangler is taking a similar approach to attracting young consumers. A second collaboration with Fender, which skewed more female, saw key styles selling out globally in the first week, Baxter said. “The brand will deepen its focus on the music scene in 2023 by continuing to activate unique brand partnerships,” he added.

The brand’s newly inked deal with country music singer and “Yellowstone” actress Lainey Wilson and its role as the official denim sponsor of the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM) will flash some light onto Wrangler as well.

Wrangler will have unique onsite programing leading up to and during the May 11 ACM show, including having its Wrangler Network team on the red carpet conducting interviews with country music stars.

“Wrangler’s connection to country music has never been stronger,” Baxter said.

Upcoming collaborations will take Wrangler in new and familiar directions aimed at elevating its positioning and reach. This year, it will drop collections with cowboy boot maker Lucchese, Inditex’s Gen Z fast-fashion retailer Pull & Bear and Buffalo Trace, the Kentucky bourbon brand.

“The current breadth and depth of our demand creation efforts for both brands are tremendous,” Baxter said. “This is one of the reasons that gives me confidence in the Kontoor story.”

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