True Religion, CEO
Michael Buckley
True Religion, CEO

Deep Dive

As True Religion celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, CEO Michael Buckley deserves the biggest piece of cake. The former company president, who rejoined the bankrupt brand in 2019, helped steer the former Y2K darling to Gen Z, thus orchestrating True Religion’s massive comeback. 

“True Religion grew to popularity during the 2000s, and with this trend on the rise and our brand collaborations and new consumer age ranges, it was only natural that our brand would represent Y2K fashion,” Buckley said.  

The strategy worked. After re-adjusting wholesale positions to become a DTC-first brand, True Religion has grown its ecommerce channel to 40 percent of sales in 2022 and is aiming for 50 percent over the next five years. Overall, 2021 revenues exceeded $255 million, up from $151 million in 2020.

Limited editions, collabs, licenses and popups continue to draw buzz (a Supreme collection sold out in three minutes), and the company partners with famous rappers including 2 Chainz and Chief Keef, up-and-coming creatives such as Jaffa Saba, Elijah Popo and Madeline Kraemer, as well as artists like Soldier. Licensing is a new push, and fresh partnerships with Amiee Lynn and Concept One/Cappelli add accessories and cross-gender categories to the mix, incorporating True Religion’s classic horseshoe and Buddha symbols. While denim comprises 40 percent of sales with 50 percent on the horizon, royalties from licensee sales will approach 10 percent of sales in coming years. 

“It’s important that True Religion remain a dynamic retail brand whose merchandise mix caters to our diverse customer base, which is 60/40 men/women and a few percent of kids,” he said.

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

Sustainability. In theory, the word means well if the brands using it are producing, manufacturing and shipping sustainably. However, that’s simply not the case. If I could opt for another word that echoes a similar sentiment, I would use circularity. I think it is more representative and telling of what we’re truly capable of at the moment. For True Religion specifically, we have partnered with young creatives to upcycle and repurpose our already existing product—prolonging our denim’s lifespan without overproducing

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

How much goes into creating jeans and the innovation behind every pair. In the beginning, there weren’t any machines that could develop the iconic stitch that you see on most of our jeans. We had to reengineer the sewing machines to achieve what we wanted. It wasn’t simply for the aesthetics; it was because we were prioritizing the construction above all else. We took a piece of clothing that has been around for 150 years and made it uniquely ours with innovative ideas, designs and processes.

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

Don’t be afraid of reinventing yourself.  Your consumer is moving at such a fast pace, and you need to be ready to pivot when they pivot. You’ll unlock a level of authenticity and success when you realize you can move with your customer and remain true to your brand’s DNA.

What can other apparel categories learn from the denim industry?

Trends within denim cycle a little slower and I think this has enabled denim brands to learn what sticks and what doesn’t. Over the past few years, it’s become evident that consumers are looking for brands who stay true to their identity while playing with trending styles and silhouettes, which is exactly what we do at True Religion.

Our customers aren’t afraid to tell us what they want, and we invite that for brand growth. As we show up for the next generation, we partner with the brands, rappers and creatives they want. Additionally, they ask to see real people on our socials, so we prioritize our user-generated content and started to tap young designers to direct shoots for our drops. It brings their perspective of the brand to life and allows our products to shine on real people in real-life situations.

What was your most recent denim purchase?

True Religion’s Ricky in Super T with the flap. I love the fit and details!

What is your first denim memory?

The moment I fell in love with denim was years ago when I was with Diesel and visited the denim factories in Italy for the first time. It was such an incredible experience. I’ll never forget it.