Since Scott Baxter was named CEO in August 2018, when VF Corp. announced its intention to separate its Jeanswear organization into an independent, publicly traded company, Baxter has the core Wrangler and Lee brands on a growth track.
The brands are finding success at home and abroad. In late 2020, Kontoor Brands launched the Wrangler brand in China on digital platforms. International revenue now accounts for about 22 percent of the total business, led by Europe and China. The outdoor collection, Wrangler ATG (All Terrain Gear), as well as the Lee collaboration with H&M, which included 100 percent recycled jeans, are examples of initiatives that are positioning Kontoor for long-term success in these regions.
Kontoor is committed to providing transparency on its efforts to create a more sustainable business. The company launched the WeCare Wrangler sustainability platform that outlines its commitment to sustainability and presents measurable goals that run through 2030.
One example is the commitment to saving 10 billion liters of water by 2025. One step toward realizing that goal is the expansion of the company’s innovative dyeing process, Indigood foam-dye technology, which eliminates traditional water vats and chemical baths of conventional indigo dyeing, reducing the amount of water required to turn denim blue by 100 percent. Indigood products are used across the Wrangler and Lee brands and the company is committed to collaborating with others in the industry to further commercialize the technology.
Kontoor has also made collaborations with new brands and partners an important element of its growth strategy. In addition to the collaboration between Lee and H&M, bringing the Lee brand into 1,000 H&M doors across 61 countries, other collaborations have included Keith Haring, Alife and Billabong and Pottery Barn Teen.
What is the biggest misconception that consumers have about sustainable denim?
We know that consumers are seeking brands that align with their values, and that includes products that are made with the environment in mind. When it comes to denim, some consumers might think that finding sustainable options is difficult, or that it will come at a high price tag. Our industry has come a long way, and we’re sharing best practices and collaborating with our vendors to utilize the best technologies to create jeans that are good for people and our planet. And we’re doing it in a way that’s accessible. Take Lee’s partnership with H&M, for example. The line is made with sustainability at the forefront, and almost everything is under $50.
What can the denim industry do to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound?
The most important thing we can do is listen to our consumers. The pandemic has shifted how we live, and that includes how we dress. As lockdowns lift and people start to resume more normal activity, they are still looking for the same comfort and functionality from their clothing that they sought when they were at home. We need to stay one step ahead, anticipating what consumers want and meeting them where they are.
Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?
The flattering fit, coupled with the enhancement in fabrics that allows for ultimate comfort for all body types and sizes, has positioned skinny and slim fits as foundational fits for both male and female wardrobes and we don’t see that changing.
What we do see happening right now is that consumers are looking for something new and exciting, something to expand their wardrobe beyond the staple skinny/slim fit look. The desire to shake up the everyday look is creating runway for alternative silhouettes to make their return such as boot, flare and looser fits.
How can denim retail improve?
Consumers are looking for a seamless shopping experience from in-store to online. We must continue to improve that experience, particularly from a digital standpoint, to help consumers understand the fit, cut and wash of our products so that they are comfortable with their selection when they add it to their cart. I think we’ll continue to see new technologies roll out that will improve upon this process.
How many pairs of jeans do you own?
I’ve worked in the denim industry for a long time, so I have many great options in my closet. I can tell you that I continue to enjoy my Wrangler and Lee jeans from my first days with the company many years ago. I’m proud that our products are durable and made to last. I am also regularly trying our latest products hitting the market—testing our new fits and innovations.
Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?
Recently I’ve been wearing my Lee Extreme Motion jeans and our new casual pant option, the FWDS pant from our outdoor collection, ATG by Wrangler.