Count Levi Strauss & Co. as the latest company seeking to shed a non-core asset.
The San Francisco-based denim company is close to selling its Dockers brand to Bluestar Alliance, according to market sources.
This follows deals including Ralph Lauren Corp. selling Club Monaco, Oxford Industries closing its Lanier division, Adidas seeking a buyer for Reebok and PVH Corp. exploring the sale of its heritage brands.
A Levi’s spokeswoman said Thursday, “As a matter of company policy, we do not comment on market speculation or rumors.” Bluestar did not respond to requests for comment.
This is not the first time Levi’s has attempted to sell Dockers. In 2004, it sought a buyer for the khakis brand as a way to pay off debt. But although it had signed a letter of intent to sell the brand to Vestar Capital Partners, a final deal was not able to be struck and Dockers remained within the Levi’s fold.
Dockers was created by Levi’s in 1986 as a way to expand beyond its denim roots. Its signature khaki pants were a leader in the casual Friday movement after their introduction. Over the years, Dockers attempted to move beyond basic khakis to become a more diversified brand, turning to buzzy stylists and celebrities to up its fashion quotient.
The brand began ramping up its image around its 30th anniversary in 2016, when Dockers had a presence at New York Fashion Week: Men’s. It sought to align with the heritage movement by reviving its wings and anchor logo that had been created to speak to the brand’s West Coast roots and maritime aesthetic. (The khaki pants were originally inspired by British longshoremen.) It even hosted an event at Berlin Fashion Week.
In 2019, it tapped buzzy Hollywood collaborator Karla Welch, stylist to Justin Bieber and Tracee Ellis Ross, to design a capsule collection of five unisex styles sold at Dover Street Market. And it linked with cult Los Angeles upcycling brand Atelier & Repairs on three styles that debuted at Pitti Uomo. It also has a European business.
But despite the efforts, the brand has found it hard to shed its image as “Dad” pants.
Dockers is still a relatively small piece of the Levi’s bottom line — in 2018, it represented just 7 percent of total volume. Annual revenue was $476 million in 2012, the last figure available. Levi’s no longer breaks out sales for its individual brands.
These days, Levi’s doesn’t generally speak much about the brand or its performance, and in fact, the last time the company singled Dockers out in an earnings call was in January 2020 when Chip Bergh, president and chief executive officer of Levi’s, said “after a line reset in 2018,” sales of Dockers men’s bottoms declined in fiscal-year 2019.
The prior year, he said Dockers had managed 13 percent growth in the beginning of the year, but acknowledged that “a sustainable turnaround will take time. But as one of the original purveyors for casual Fridays, it’s our objective to revise the brand for the modern workplace.”
Bluestar Alliance is a brand management company in the same vein as Authentic Brands Group and Marquee Brands. It owns and manages a portfolio of brands with more than $5 billion in retail sales including Hurley, Bebe, Tahari, Catherine Malandrino, Nanette Lepore, English Laundry and Limited Too. It manages a portfolio of more than 300 licensees and operates more than 100 stores worldwide.
Last year, it acquired the tween retailer, Justice, from Ascena Retail Group out of bankruptcy court for about $90 million. And at the end of 2019, it purchased Hurley, a California surf brand, from Nike Inc. for an undisclosed amount.
Bluestar’s executives, led by Joseph Gabbay and Ralph Gindi, who founded the business in 2006, were described as “really nice guys” by one executive, but also “pretty hands off.” Another source familiar with the company’s operations agreed, adding, “They buy labels, they don’t build them.”