True Religion is growing its international business one step at a time. Although the brand aims to venture beyond its home market in the U.S., it would rather take the small and steady route.
Going slowly allows True Religion to focus on the uniqueness of each market. “Localization is something I believe in. Sometimes, American brands think their way fits every single market,” said Matt Clayton, True Religion’s vice president of international.
That American way of thinking wouldn’t work overseas where 80 percent of the market is focused on full-price sales versus the U.S., where sales are driven by an off-price mind-set, he said. Moreover, each country has its own unique customer demographic and fashion preferences, not to mention the need for specific fits across Asia.
According to Clayton, India has a slightly more mature customer, where 60 percent of sales are led by denim purchases. In contrast, the U.K. is considered a young market and that means a pair of jeans will more likely be combined with a T-shirt and sneakers. Sales in the U.K. are one-third denim, one-third active and one-third Ts. “In contrast, the German market is very much womenswear focused with a more mature customer,” he said.
The brand has a strong retail footprint in the U.K., South Korea, India, Germany, Indonesia, Mexico and the Middle East. Some are monobrand stores operated by partners, and others are multibranded shops. In the U.K., the brand is sold in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges as wholesale accounts. True Religion also partnered with Urban Outfitters to sell the brand both in the specialty chain’s locations and at the retailer’s online sites in the U.S. and abroad.
“South Korea has a blend of shops and online, where TV shopping is a crazy, huge business. We respect the nuances of each market,” Clayton said. “The Middle East is a blend of store and the wholesale customer. We will open two monobrand stores in Dubai this year. Once Dubai comes onboard, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi are possibilities. There is the potential for a rollout in the Middle East, for sure.” Marc Alec operates as the sole distributor for the Middle East.
Sometime between the end of this year and early in 2023, Clayton expects to add Japan, Australia, Thailand and Italy to the brand’s international roster. Scandinavia is also a possibility, and an announcement that True Religion will enter the China market could come in early fall. But a key element with the stores is that True Religion is not interested in opening its own company-operated locations. That means Clayton’s job is largely centered on finding the right operating partner.
As for who would make for a harmonious fit, Clayton said that would be a “partner that believes in the brand, someone that understand us and also the nuances of its [core] market.” Finding the right partner serves as the basis for determining which markets to open in first.
Clayton prefers a partner that can build a “fantastic business,” even if it’s for a smaller region, so long as the operator gets the True Religion ethos. What he wants is a mutual respect where he knows the DNA of the brand will be adhered to, a key priority before inking any partnership deal. And so long as the brand partner respects the True Religion DNA, he’s willing to return the favor when needed.
Clayton noted True Religion’s partnership with Aishti, a Lebanese firm that operates two True Religion branded stores in Beirut. “Aishti is really a strong business partner and a long-standing one. It runs some of the high luxury stores for brands such as Gucci, Fendi and Dior. The company supported us during the challenging moments we’ve had over the last six years, and we’ve done the same when it has had some macro issues,” he said, referring to Beirut’s port explosion in August 2020 that spiraled the country into a severe economic crisis.
“We took the risk out of their commitments by offering flexibility with inventory and also making sure they had product when they reopened,” Clayton said.
True Religion’s international sales have been doing well, even amid a global inflationary backdrop. “Our customer is still shopping us at full price,” Clayton said, noting the brand’s advantage in its positioning as the entry point to luxury fashion.
The brand is using Instagram to connect with both customers potential new partners. It’s also helping True Religion get the word out when there are collaborations. For fall 2021, a Supreme x True Religion collaboration was sold exclusively at the streetwear brand’s stores and website. The offering featured the brand’s iconic horseshoe embroidery and its signature, chunky white stitching design known as the two-stitch.
Its latest collaboration was with London artist Soldier, taking the denim and lifestyle brand into skate culture. Proceeds from the eight-piece capsule featuring Soldier’s camouflage prints benefits War Child USA, a humanitarian group that helps children and families impacted by military conflict.
Clayton said collaborations will become a “bigger component” of the business going forward, with three planned for next year that he described as “super high end.” Information about these is still under wraps, but Clayton did say the capsules will be with brands at select retailers.