Harley-Davidson Inc. didn’t pay Rihanna to wear its latest T-shirt at Coachella and it’s that authenticity that appeals to the loyal customers of Harley’s apparel.
“Sometimes we see celebrities in a retro T-shirt or engineer boots,” said Karen Davidson, creative director of general merchandise, who confirmed that they don’t pay celebrities to wear their clothes. “They just get picked up by their stylists,” she said. Davidson’s great-grandfather was the cofounder of the legendary motorcycle brand that is headquartered in Milwaukee.
Harley-Davidson sold $292 million in nonmotorcycle merchandise last year. On top of that, Harley claims to own 62 percent of the female motorcycle market. Women riders in the U.S. have increased by 14 percent as of 2014 and that is a 50 percent increase over the last 10 years. 25 percent of all motorcycle riders are women and that includes passengers.
This all-American motorcycle company has been in business since 1903 and has carried apparel since 1912. Initially, the clothing was functional in nature for the riders, but now the fashion side is getting just as much attention. The company’s first apparel item was a jacket with Harley-Davidson in bold felt letters. Also pictured on the Web site in the company’s archives is a woman who rode more than 5,000 miles in 1914 and wore “long-distance riding clothes” from Harley-Davidson.
Davidson said the apparel varies from functional rider clothing that addresses shoulder comfort, ventilation and moisture wicking to post riding casual outfits. The Black Label line that was launched in 2008, is more stylish and less functional. It has a more discreet logo and a slim cut. The line is aiming for the younger customer that may not necessarily own a Harley.
For the first time Harley-Davidson participated in New York Fashion Week in February with its counter-culture fashion show. The Harley women’s wear is very inclusive when it comes to sizes. Everything from small to tall and skinny to wide is available. Spokeswoman, Jennifer Hoyer said, “We don’t want our customer to have to settle for a wrong size.”
Hoyer also pointed out that comfort is one of the overriding features of the clothes. Mostly borne out of making the clothes functional for riders. “You don’t want someone trying to ride their bike, but finding the clothes aren’t fitting, like some spots are bunching up,” Hoyer said. “The idea is that women can wear the clothes on the bikes and then also wear them after they’re done riding.”
Harley is also beginning to see the value of being a lifestyle brand and not just a bike dealer. The Harley-Davidson dealership in Portland sells more apparel and non-bike merchandise. “It’s less about the bikes and more about the lifestyle,” Hoyer said. True to the Oregon culture, the store sells coffee. This dealership is unique and the company is keeping an eye on results to see if the format should be replicated. Normally, the company just provides apparel catalogues to its dealers for them to forward on to their customers.
The moto style trend continues to be in style, but some stylists are opting for authenticity over designer labels for the easy rider look.