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Executives at Dutch denim brand G-Star believe the label has found stable footing in the U.S. after entering the market four years ago. With its base in place, management is focusing on broadening wareness and utilizing nontraditional marketing methods to better connect with consumers.
“The first five years for any brand entering a market like [the U.S.]…is only about making friends and meeting people,” said Shubhankar Ray, global brand director, in an interview at G-Star’s SoHo offices in Manhattan. “If you’re lucky, some of the right retailers and the right consumers will pick you up. We’re at that transition phase after this, where it’s really about awareness for us now.”
G-Star has come far in a relatively short time. Over the past four years, the company has opened 13 stores across the country, starting with New York and Los Angeles and moving on to major markets such as Boston, Chicago and San Diego. The brand also has taken part in New York Fashion Week the last three seasons.
Management has spent the last four years adjusting the collection to be more price-competitive as well — the bulk of its products retail between $150 and $185 — and more wearable for the American market.
Deepak Gayadin, executive vice president of sales for North America, said he’s seen recognition slowly growing. Opening stores will continue to be key to raising awareness. According to Gayadin, the goal is to open 200 stores in the U.S., although there is no definitive timetable to reach that number. The next store is scheduled to bow in November in Miami and will be the brand’s largest in the States at 3,200 square feet.
“To have a really good presentation of the total collection, we need a minimum of 2,500 square feet,” said Gayadin. Expanding the collection is the next step for the American market and will pick up in 2009.
“We’ve been adding a lot of components to the overall offer,” said Ray. “We’re taking accessories and bags more seriously. Footwear, this is what’s rolling out across Europe at the moment and should be here in 2009.”
Ray and Gayadin believe G-Star’s greatest opportunities to connect with consumers will come through alternative marketing efforts. Ray said the size of the American market and a complicated media structure make it difficult to convey the brand’s message, and efforts are being focused on developing strategies that will create a more authentic relationship between the brand and the consumer.
“When you have an interface with the brand, it appears to me that there’s something more genuine there because people seem to connect,” said Ray.
One of the brand’s first efforts to achieve such a connection took place in Los Angeles in June. “Raw Nights,” a one-night-only art installation curated by Dennis Hopper, took place in a parking lot in Beverly Hills. It was a combination of an apparel showroom with a screening of Hopper-directed short fi lms and selections of his artwork — billboard photographs the actor took in the Sixties, then altered by graffiti artists — as well as a live installation by his son, Henry, made from recycled denim and found objects. The next “Raw Nights” will take place in New York during fashion week in September.
“We want to have some kind of live entertainment platform that we can roll out in America,” said Ray. “Los Angeles with Dennis Hopper was a little bit of a test for this. We don’t want to do it in the traditional sponsorship way. The happening becomes unique to our brand, so it becomes an extension of our brand.”
The company is also looking to launch its own record label, G-Star Records, in the next three to six months. Rather than invest in traditional TV spots, the brand is testing short concept art films that it feels offer greater insight into the brand’s image. The company is employing similar strategies in Japan, where the brand was virtually unknown and is finding similar success.
Gayadin acknowledges few European denim-based brands have achieved longevity and widespread success in the American market. Diesel is one such standout, and G-Star hopes to be another.
“We need to be better known and need people to understand us a little better,” Ray added.