20 Years Later, AG Balances Being a Premium Denim and Lifestyle Brand
The design and manufacturing processes that AG put in place more than 20 years ago continue to work in the company’s favor.
Established by Adriano Goldschmied and Yul Ku during the early aughts denim rush, the Los Angeles-based brand was instantly recognized for its unique washes and vertically operated manufacturing that allowed it to maneuver to current market trends and demands. Those same qualities, as well as its adoption of environmentally conscious design, fabrics and finishing, have been key to its longevity.
AG marked its 20th anniversary in 2021, and celebrations are continuing into the new year.
The brand recently released a limited-edition collection of men’s and women’s jeans made with 20 unique selvedge denim fabrics sourced from 12 different mills including: Advance, Atlantic, Candiani, Isko, Kaihara, Kurabo, Kuroki, Nameless, Nihon Menpu, Shinotex and Showa. Deadstock fabric from Cone Denim’s shuttered White Oak is also used in the collection. Selvedge fabrics range from raw indigo to softer blue hues with destruction, as well as black and a natural white. The collection, available at AG stores and online, retails for $258-$428.
Sam Ku, AG president and creative director, said the collection was over two years in the making. “This collection is truly exciting for any denim enthusiast, every piece is absolutely beautiful and will only get better with age—worthy investment pieces,” Ku added.
AG also opened its fourth New York City store in November on the Upper East Side. The 2,500-square-foot Madison Avenue outpost showcases the brand’s full denim range and new items like the made-in-house knitwear collection amongst bespoke terrazzo floors, a grand staircase, digital screens that showcases its sustainable manufacturing and a 7-foot tall, illuminated AG logo suspended from the ceiling.
As the brand kicks off 2022 with new collections and stores, John Rossell, AG head of creative and marketing, shares what’s next for the label as it digs deeper into sustainability, non-denim categories and D2C retail.
Rivet: AG recently opened a new store in New York City. Why is the right time to open a new location?
John Rossell: 2021 marked AG’s 20-year anniversary, and the store on Madison Avenue celebrates AG’s history in a city that has inspired us over the years. We also opened our Atlanta location [in 2021] to great success. For AG, it’s not so much the timing, but rather the location, each store is an investment in a community we really connect with and believe in. There will always be economic turns, up and down, but building a solid community and fostering an incredible staff has always been rudimentary to our retail expansion and success.
Rivet: Compared to 2020, how was AG’s 2021?
JR: 2021 came with the direct benefit of having survived 2020—with a focus constrained to digital during 2020 we were able to make meaningful advancements in our digital approach as well as re-gear our internal dynamics—and come 2021 that effort paid off. Our strongest growth in 2021 was realized in our D2C channels, while also seeing a return to the in-person shopping that supports our wholesale business, making 2021 substantially better than 2020, and having the added benefit of laying a foundation for a successful 2022.
Rivet: What has been the biggest game-changer in AG’s 20-year history, and why?
JR: There are a lot of highlights, but one of the greatest advantages that proves itself repeatedly, is the nature of AG’s vertical manufacturing structure. It’s been the cornerstone of AG’s superb quality and innovation. Owning our own production has allowed us so much control over our product; the brand quality, consistency, our sustainability, speed to market, and transparency, while also shielding us from the susceptibilities common to overseas production and supply chain issues.
Rivet: In what ways is the brand the same as it was 20 years ago?
JR: The design pillars remain true to the AG of 20 years ago. Of course, fashion changes, but the ideology of how we approach design with authenticity at the heart of our product offering remains the same. The same spirit of innovation is still very much part of our DNA today as well. From very early on, AG invested in laser technology and sustainable energy, helping to drive widespread adoption in the denim space. Today, we continue to honor that drive with heavy investment in water recycling, sustainable sourcing, and chemical reduction to help champion a more responsible mindset in the industry.
Rivet: How has the definition of ‘premium’ evolved since AG launched?
JR: The early days of premium may have eluded more to luxury or exclusivity. Today, it involves a larger conversation that includes transparency, sustainability, social responsibility, as well as the hallmarks of quality and good design.
Rivet: What qualities does AG look for in its suppliers?
JR: We’re fortunate to work with some of the best suppliers around the world; some have a long history in traditional craftsmanship, some focus on supreme quality, others allow innovation to be their guide. With denim it’s important to find the right balance that allows an offering that speaks to all facets without creating a compromised product.
Rivet: Y2K is back in more ways than one. Could a L.A. denim revival be next?
JR: You know, there’s been some spottings of low-rise denim in the social sphere, but I hope that’s not one to come back. Vintage denim will always be trending, and I suppose we’re now in a time where the early 2000s can be considered vintage, so anything is possible, but one thing is for sure, when it comes to denim, L.A. is always the epicenter.
Rivet: What steps is the brand taking to appeal to the next generation of denim consumers?
JR: What AG does exceedingly well is juggle all the things we’ve come to love about denim and finds the perfect balance—excellent fits, authentic washes, traditional time-honored methods combined with modern comfort and practicality—we do this while still committing to sustainability and quality. Other than exploring new channels and new ways to engage, we continue to build AG to be the premium denim company that all others are compared to, and those implied values will surely resonate with any next generation.
Rivet: What can we expect from AG in 2022?
JR: With any luck, more IRL engagement. We’re looking forward to some great partnerships and events, and really hoping those can include in-person in addition to the digital components. AG just launched our knitwear in 2021, incorporating the same vertical production principles as our denim, so 2022 will be an exciting year to explore a more offerings in that vein.