Duer is a product of its time.
Celebrating its 5th anniversary this fall, the performance denim brand was born into a marketplace when Kickstarter brands were piquing consumers’ interest, direct-to-consumer online companies were “cutting out the middle man” and performance attributes were becoming apparel brands’ calling cards.
Founder Gary Lenett set out to satisfy all three with Duer, a line that fuses performance and style, fashion and function, and comfort and versatility.
The son of a clothing manufacturer and grandson of a multi-line clothing rep, Lenett was born into fashion. After brief stints as a teacher and a lawyer, he found himself back in the family business, making jeans for brands such as Levi’s, Lee, Wrangler and Guess before launching Duer.
In 2014, he debuted Duer’s first product, L2X Performance Denim, on Kickstarter, raising more than $50,000. The jeans, available in a men’s slim and relaxed fit and a women’s skinny, demonstrate a maze of technical prowess: wicking and temperature control that removes moisture, an invisible seat gusset that increases maneuverability, lightweight super-stretch fabric that provides comfort and even radiation shield pocketing that protects wearers from their smartphones.
From there, Lenett expanded the business through additional Kickstarter programs. The N2X No Sweat, a men’s and women’s pant with moisture control technology, raised $250,000, followed by the T2X Live Lite, a line of “hot weather pants” with 16 travel features such as hidden pockets and venting, that raised almost $300,000.
The products set the foundation for what is now a men’s and women’s brand that spans jeans, shorts, joggers and tops. Jean fits for men include slim, relaxed, straight and beachcomber, and women’s jeans include skinny, slim straight, and straight and narrow. Jeans retail for $119-$199.
Duer’s founding principle is simple: Do everything you do in a day without changing your clothes.
“We believe first in our fabrics because they lay the foundation to create our products,” Lenett told Rivet. “We design to solve problems for Duers like ourselves—people who want versatility, comfort and function in a stylish way.”
It’s this technical approach to apparel that’s propelled the brand from just three employees when it launched its first Kickstarter campaign to 50 employees as of today. Lenett says the Duer team keeps tabs on innovations being developed in mills across the globe.
And consumers are responding. Since launch, Lenett reported that sales have grown 100 percent year over year and the brand now sells to 52 countries.
“We do not have heavy branding on our product,” Lenett said. “We let the product speak for itself.”
Lenett credits his denim knowledge to his training in Levi Strauss factories in the 1990s. “I don’t think there is any substitute for the technical training that you get in a factory environment,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are not too many factories left in North America, but denim is a highly complex product and it is difficult for designers to learn both from a sewing and washing perspective.”
He added that while there are only two to four different ways to sew a T-shirt and more than 64 for a typical jean, it’s the washing process that’s the most difficult to master. Duer offers a variety of washes, ranging from the Skyline, a deep midnight blue with a green cast, to the Vintage Tint, which offers more distressing and contrast.
Duer’s team members stay true to their founding principle by focusing solely on the product and making sure it remains technically innovative—so that their jeans never prevent someone from climbing through a jungle gym whenever they want to.
In April 2019, Duer opened its second retail store in Canada in Toronto, signaling the brand’s increasing comfort with traditional brick-and-mortar retail. However, there’s nothing traditional about its retail concept.
Duer’s first retail store in Vancouver underwent a series of transformations, beginning as a pop-up that sat behind the corporate office, then changing to an office-store-distribution center hybrid and eventually becoming the standalone store it is today—complete with the world’s first performance denim playground.
The brand’s hallmark is that its jeans don’t operate like jeans—and to test out that concept, shoppers are encouraged to play on the store’s monkey bars; climb up to its treehouse; and bike and swing on the appropriate—and readily available—equipment.
The shopping experience at the flagship store is virtually unlike any other—and the brand plans to bring this retail experience to Los Angeles, Denver and New York City next year.
“I have been launching different brands for almost 30 years now and have learned almost everything by trial and error,” Lenett said. “The biggest thing I know now that I did not know then is that you can’t outsource ‘brand’ in any way and stay authentic. You just need to be authentic and not work hard to develop strategies to do so.”