Lee, VP global design
Betty Madden
Lee, VP global design

Deep Dive

A versatile creative leader with the ability to move seamlessly between luxury and mainstream apparel design across categories, Betty Madden, Lee’s vice president, global head of design, is one who can do it all. Since joining the heritage brand in 2019, Madden has worked to align Lee’s iconic details with consumers’ demand for comfort, fit and the freedom to style it how every they wish. 

“We look at every nuance to elevate the elements that make Lee special,” Madden said.

From core men’s items to performance-driven denim for women, Madden’s designs for Lee are resonating with consumers. Lee brand global revenue rose 10 percent to $193 million in Q2. Lee U.S. revenue increased 40 percent, driven by strength in U.S. wholesale demand and increases in digital. Sponsoring the music festival Bonnaroo in June and a summer campaign “Free Your Originality” also helped the brand reach a younger demographic. 

The need to reduce the denim industry’s global impact is driving passion, creativity and resourcefulness creating a real defining moment for Lee.  

“A great brand inspires, conjures emotion and memories, and makes you feel a certain way when you are wearing or engaging with it,” Madden added. “I am very proud of the renewed interest and excitement surrounding Lee generated by great design, exciting collaborations and beautiful marketing campaigns. I am proud of how the whole Lee organization has worked so hard to create great products.” 

What denim buzzword do you think is overused? And what would you replace it with?

I worry the word “sustainable” is being overused on all consumer products without clarity to what makes it sustainable. Sustainability isn’t supposed to be just a trend. Transparency is so important, and clarity helps excite consumers to want to participate with a brand they align with for the greater good.

What do you wish more consumers knew about the jeans they buy?

I wish consumers had a more common understanding about the impact denim has on the planet and how important it is to make a thoughtful investment by choosing a brand that cares about quality, treatment of workers and pursuing more sustainable solutions in the development and production of its products. Lee is prioritizing how we are creating change through our For a World that Works program. 

If you had one request for denim brands, what would that be? 

Don’t let ego impede innovation. Many of us who love denim can be precious about the process, protective of the construction and aesthetic of true authentic denim. The word innovation can create concerns regarding losing that heritage, but they are not mutually exclusive. True visionary creativity can achieve both.

What can other apparel categories learn from the denim industry? 

In my opinion, denim is the most iconic, timeless, democratic and beloved category in fashion. The elements that make it so revered are those that have the makings of heirlooms and legends.

What was your most recent denim purchase? 

I’ve been buying vintage Lee overalls like a maniac, and I collect 1950’s era Lee.

What is your first denim memory?

My early denim memories all revolve around high school and college. I would buy new and vintage jeans—or steal my brothers—and bleach, dye, paint and shred them. I once bleached a pair of jeans too far and felt the seat rip wide open when I was sitting in my college sociology class. I had to navigate getting to my car without the whole campus seeing my right cheek.