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Denim Brands Break Out with Travel-Friendly Non-Denim Collections

Wanderlust isn’t just for the weekends.

With 1.1 million people traveling for business every day in the U.S. and more than 60 percent of those trips having a leisure component tacked on, according to Expedia data, a new travel category called “bleisure” is emerging. Local cuisines, beaches, outdoor activities and cultural excursions are luring business travelers to add on an extra day or two for “me time” in locales they may have otherwise never visited.

And with millennial and Gen Z consumers investing in experiences over possessions, bleisure travel isn’t expected to slow down any time soon. In fact, more than half of millennial-age business travelers say they create reasons to hit the road and another 39 percent say they would not accept a job that didn’t offer traveling opportunities, according to a survey commissioned by Hilton Hotels.

However, the nomadic lifestyle comes with its own set of wardrobe woes. The same survey found that 36 percent of millennial business travelers say they are stressed by trying to pack the right clothes for any situation. Their carry-ons now have to include both work-appropriate attire and casual looks for the days they’re OOO—or ideally items that can do double-duty.

“Any smart brand is already thinking about travel as a lifestyle need to tap into,” Marshal Cohen, The NPD Group retail industry analyst, told Rivet.

Travel has become a prominent theme in brands’ and retailers’ communications. Retail analytics firm Edited has seen a spike in recent seasons of retailers suggesting products that are comfortable and versatile in airport travel edits. Still, many of these marketing efforts are typically built around women’s swim, dresses, handbags and other travel accoutrements, perhaps overlooking the fact that men still account for 77 percent of business trips and 54 percent of nonbusiness travel, according to the Bureau of Transportation.

It’s a conundrum that direct-to-consumer brands like Bluffworks and Makers & Riders are trying to solve with “travel jeans,” touting performance properties like stretch, breathability and moisture-wicking. While denim has benefited from the casualization of workplaces around the world, jeans brands also recognize that there are occasions that require non-denim bottoms, and there are still consumers that don’t feel comfortable wearing five-pocket jeans to a sales meeting or conference.

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First impressions

Since entering the men’s denim market two years ago, Liverpool Jeans has established itself as a source for versatile, tech-based fabrications for bottoms. The brand offers men’s comfort stretch jeans for sizes 28-42, has dabbled in lightweight nylon tech trousers and found success with knit joggers—particularly for men on the go that don’t want to wear a sweat pant.

“We decided to take the jogger further than a drawstring pull-on,” said Mark D’Angelo, Liverpool Jeans vice president of sales, men’s. “Ours has a button-fly construction, a drawstring and belt looms around the waist area so it looks like a pant.” The pant, he added, can be dressed up or down with footwear, or be paired with a hybrid knit blazer for total comfort.

Liverpool Jeans knit jogger
Liverpool Jeans knit jogger Courtesy

The brand is evolving the jogger program this fall to include a super stretch twill variety. Made with 66 percent cotton, 20 percent polyester, 3 percent rayon and 2 percent spandex, the lightweight fabric keeps its shape yet has a comfortable satin-like hand feel. The pant, D’Angelo says, takes the concept of a comfort stretch knit and applies it to sharper woven jogger. The fabrication will also be introduced in a trouser, which can effortlessly be worn to work.

Liverpool is also planning to add four ponte trousers to the men’s line this fall—a style D’Angelo says has been picking up momentum in Europe. “These are tailored so they look like dress pant but they are knit based,” he said. The goal, he added, is to give the consumer easy-care variety. Unless corporate America suddenly puts a ban on casual apparel, D’Angelo said Liverpool will continue to focus on options that help men “feel put together.”

Performance review

Expected to become a $86 billion market by 2020, according to NPD, athleisure is a force that cannot be ignored. However, rather than slap its logo on a pair of sweats, Lee Jeans is marrying the comfort of athleisure with the style of its jeans and twills in a new men’s collection called MVP.

Launching this fall, MVP includes features like the brand’s Extreme Flex waistband that flexes with the body’s movement, denim with moisture-wicking and thermal regulation, and a synthetic pant that offers similar features as well as being wrinkle-resistant. A hidden gusset offers extra room where men need it most. The brand has also added a shirt gripper to the Extreme Flex waistband in the synthetic pant to help keep shirts tucked in place.

“These products really will be something guys can wear anywhere from the office to a restaurant to a golf course,” said Starr Dees, Lee Jeans brand marketing manager. “These pants can be styled a myriad of ways—they’re made for the go-getter, the traveler, the father, the 9AM-5PM, the 5PM-9AM. They are made to be dressed up or dressed down, without compromising quality or style.”

The Lee Extreme Motion MVP jeans will be available in a straight fit and a slim fit with a variety of fashion washes and finishes. The Lee Extreme Comfort MVP pant offers the same fits and a few of the many colors offered are khaki, storm grey, charcoal, navy and black.

With lines like the Performance Series, Lee has always been a brand that has looked for ways to innovate fit and style. For MVP, Dees said the brand took special care to ensure the denim fabric for this collection really stands out.

“The premium cotton blend uses Repreve fibers, which are recycled from plastic bottles. We also incorporated moisture-wicking and Sorbtek 365 technology to keep our consumer cool and comfortable. The fabric has been engineered for extra strength while still offering a soft hand and great stretch,” she explained.

Meanwhile, the fabric used in the MVP synthetic pant also contains performance stretch and moisture wicking. “This pant offers a cotton like feel which adds to the aesthetics of the garment and is unexpected in a synthetic,” Dees said. “The quick recovery of the fibers and wrinkle resistant technology mean this pant will look great all day from the office to beyond.”

Off the grid

Wrangler’s new product range was built specifically for the adventure-seeking consumer. “They work and play outside, they need products that can keep up with them and we want to deliver,” said Danny Brisby, Wrangler design manager for outdoor and workwear.

To fulfill this need for go-anywhere fashion, Wrangler is introducing the All-Terrain Gear (ATG) collection for men this fall. “ATG provides a whole new brand experience that stays true to Wrangler’s heritage,” Brisby said. “It’s a collection that can go with you from the mountain to the street.”

ATG offers a diverse set of products that Brisby said are as “versatile and rugged as a pair of jeans while thoughtfully incorporating technical features as well as practicality for everyday wear.” The collection, which includes bottoms, tops and jackets, is suitable for activities like hiking, camping and fishing and at the end of the day, a casual dinner with family or out for a drink with colleagues.

Wrangler’s ATG collection Courtesy

Each type of fabric in the collection is either geared toward durability, moisture management, warmth or it’s lightweight and breathable. Bottoms are made with durable fabrics like heavy cotton dobby with stretch, and nylon stretch twill with a water repellant finish.

“The approach we take with product design is mainly focused on utility and function,” Brisby said. “We incorporate secure zippered pockets for valuables. We also have a brand wide focus on dynamic comfort. We use stretch even in the heaviest of fabrics and incorporate gussets and articulation for ease of movement.”

While the ATG steps away from denim, Brisby says the collection doesn’t step away from the brand’s roots. “ATG remains true to the core values of our customer. There is an adventurous and independent spirit at their core. One that drives them to seek out new experiences and boldly go outdoors and explore,” he said.

And Brisby says it’s important for Wrangler to continue to inspire the community and provide products that will take them where ever they may go. “It expands the creative prowess of the brand with innovative new products that speak to the adventurous and independent spirit of Wrangler,” he said.