By  on April 2, 2014

Two apparel industry veterans have been drawn into the orbit of True Religion Apparel Inc. as it plots several new directions, including a fresh approach to its retail operations.

John Anderson, who retired as president and chief executive officer of Levi Strauss & Co. in 2011, and Marka Hansen, the former president of Gap Inc.’s Gap North America and Banana Republic units, have been added to the premium denim company’s board, expanding the number of directors to seven.

The board already includes Andrew Rolfe, chairman of True Religion and managing director of parent TowerBrook Capital Partners LP, and David Conn, who TowerBrook enlisted as ceo upon completion of its $835 million acquisition of the company last July.

The additions will reunite a number of former coworkers. Rolfe is the former president of Gap Inc.’s international division, while Mary Alderete, True Religion’s chief marketing officer, is a veteran of both Gap and Levi’s; Rosella Giuliani, senior vice president of merchandising, was instrumental in Gap’s rollout of the 1969 collection, and Gary Harvey, creative director, worked both in-house and as a consultant for Levi’s.

Anderson, who is also a director of Harley-Davidson and ZoomSystems, said, “The combination of the brand, David and his team and the TowerBrook group was a pretty compelling proposition. The TowerBrook people are good owners — patient owners — and they know where the brand needs to be taken.”

He noted that True Religion has a solid niche as a brand in the premium market. “The premium segment is very important for the entire industry,” he said. “That’s where you can innovate and introduce newness, and True Religion is perfectly positioned to continue to do that. As long as David and the team continue to bring newness to the marketplace — edgy design and breakthrough advertising — the pieces are in place and there’s a lot of room to move.”

Hansen told WWD, “True Religion is a great brand that I’ve followed for a long time, and I think that they’ve assembled a great team to make it all work. I’m absolutely confident in the company’s ability in the current market. They’re focused on product innovation, fit, retail presence and international penetration to really ignite excitement around the brand again.

“And it’s really fun for me because I get to draw on my merchandising and product development expertise,” she added.

Hansen is also a director of The Orvis Co.

“We’ve got the former ceo of the largest denim company in the world and the former president of one of the biggest denim retailers in the world,” Conn said. “We’re extremely lucky to have them working with us.”

The new retail strategy under TowerBrook is about to be put to the test as True Religion prepares to launch a new store concept later this year. Ten stores are scheduled to open in 2014, expanding the North American count to 160, and half of them — in markets expected to include New York, Chicago, Miami and its home market of Los Angeles — will employ the new format. “It builds on what already works for us — relatively small stores of 1,400 to 1,600 square feet that are productive in terms of sales per square foot and four-wall profit contribution,” he said. “There’ll of course be a major focus on denim, but we’re looking to provide a flagship experience with emphasis on omnichannel selling and digital storytelling.”

In 2012, True Religion’s last full year as a public company, U.S. consumer direct sales rose 12 percent to $281.6 million, while overall revenues were up 11.3 percent to $467.3 million. Gross margin for the direct segment was 70.1 percent of sales versus 64.1 percent for the company overall.

While the company’s North American fleet currently includes 44 outlet stores, the new units, even the ones not incorporating the new design, will be full-price, Conn told WWD. The company operates an e-commerce site, but the ceo has said that the firm plans to expand its efforts in the area, as well as in digital communications and social media, in the future.

With market share and brand loyalty high in the men’s market, he cited women’s as the “biggest opportunity for the company. We’re doing more in slimmer fits, softer fabrications and in midrise and high-rise. We’ve pretty much been focused on low-rise to this point.”

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