When executives at Lee Co. turned to teens to get some insight into how to market to them, they learned a simple lesson: Just be yourself.

“What we found in our research was that the junior shopper of today is very different from the Gen-X consumer,” said Kathy Collins, vice president of marketing at the Merriam, Kan.-based division of VF Corp. “She is very passionate about things being very real, very authentic.”

She said the company’s research showed that today’s teens, born between 1983 and 1993 and known as the “millennial generation” are far less cynical than the Gen-Xers, who are now moping their way through their 30s, and the consumption-crazed Gen-Yers.

That led Lee to its latest venture for the junior market: Lee 1889, a brand that references the year of the H.D. Lee Co.’s founding.

In recent years, the company tried twice to win over junior shoppers with new brands — Wish in 2003 and Diva Doll in 2000. Both brands failed to catch on. Lee 1889, which is launching for fall retailing, represents a return to the company’s core brand.

“This makes so much more sense,” said Collins. “Let’s go out and shout the Lee name.”

The collection includes four core styles of jeans, eight fashion silhouettes, and an assortment of 12 stretch fabrics and 10 rigid cotton fabrics, as well as denim jackets and tops. All styles feature traditional Lee design elements, such as the heavy leather patch, Lazy S pocket stitching and branded buttons. The jeans have an 8-inch rise and will retail for about $38.

Lee president Gordon Harton said in a Tuesday interview at the company’s New York showroom that Lee decided to take a basic approach with Lee 1889 because “when the Lee brand has focused on fit and fabric in basic product, that’s when we’ve had our huge successes.”

The full collection will be unveiled to retailers in March, with deliveries scheduled for June 30. Harton said the company will ship some test batches of product to retailers prior to that date.

In addition to the new junior line — which also will be launched in the young men’s area — the company unveiled a new misses’ product. It’s a basic five-pocket look called Ultimate Five.The name, however, isn’t intended to refer to the number of pockets, but five attributes that Lee expects will make it a bestseller. They are a 10-inch rise that falls one to two inches below the navel, a contoured waistband to avoid gapping in the rear, front pockets that are fully sewn down to the leg seams to prevent bunching, side seams set toward the front of the jeans for a slimming effect and a back yoke in which the leg fabric is sewn over the waistband fabric —?rather than under — a choice that’s also intended to be slimming.

It’s essentially a similar move to the One True Fit contemporary style the brand rolled out last year, but is aimed at a slightly older customer.

Looking toward the spring retail season, Harton said retailers had taken conservative inventory positions after last year’s weak performance, but said he believed actual sales would be up compared with last year.

“We’ll get people coming back looking for goods,” he predicted.

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