Lee Jeans, a heritage denim brand, named Chris Waldeck, formerly of Reebok International Ltd., as president of Lee Jeans and Rock & Republic. Prior to this role, Waldeck was the vice president and general manager of Reebok International Ltd.
Waldeck is succeeding Joseph Dzialo, who retired at the end of 2016.
The brand is owned by VF Corp. and employs more than 400 people in the U.S. Waldeck said he was eagerly anticipating his relocation to Lee Jeans’ headquarters office in Kansas City, Kan., as he was raised in the area and affectionately refers to it as his hometown after years of living and traveling abroad.
“The opportunity to lead an iconic American brand like Lee was one I didn’t want to pass up,” Waldeck told WWD. “When you start to dig into the 100-plus years of heritage with Lee and its story and product, I knew it was really such a great opportunity.”
At Reebok, Waldeck served as a brand director for Reebok Korea as well as senior director of marketing for Reebok International. “In these roles, Waldeck gained international experience in entering new categories, forming strong partnerships with sports associations and professional athlete endorsements, and establishing franchise models and owned stores,” Lee said in a statement.
Prior to Reebok, he was vice president of marketing for Cramer Products Inc., which is a supplier of sports medicine and protective products designed for athletes and trainers. He also held various positions at Spalding Sports and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes.
Lee was founded in 1889, and its jeans are sold in the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The brand is positioned in the market as a casual denim product with a focus on comfort, fit and style.
In VF Corp.’s most recent quarterly report, Steven Rendle, chief executive officer, president and director, told Wall Street analysts that the company’s results “were right in line with our expectations. Our growth engines continue to deliver solid results despite a retail backdrop that continues to experience disruption and consolidation, particularly here in the U.S. Overall revenue was down 1 percent during the quarter, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. The momentum we see building in our largest brands and in our international and direct-to-consumer platforms is strong.”
For Lee, Waldeck sees the brand playing a role in VF Corp.’s expansion. “Lee is definitely a growth brand,” Waldeck said. “We’re really focused on the consumer and delivering great product experiences. I think it’s the ‘experience’ part that’s so important. It’s really about how the consumer interacts with our products.”
Waldeck joins the brand as its fall 2017 collection hits stores in mid-July. Inspired by its brand campaign “Move Your Lee,” which empowers consumers to “move boldly with style,” the collection experiments with “different expressions of denim” by juxtaposing heritage styles with innovative textile designs that allow for supreme flexibility and comfort. Think of Eighties style embroidered denim jackets, frayed hems, distressed finishing and patch work details alongside jeans made of high-performance stretch fabrics.
From that collection, the denim brand is spotlighting its “Dream Jean,” which is “a yoga pant and authentic denim jean in one” that incorporates an exclusive soft knit lining on the waistband of a skinny fit stretch denim. Its “Extreme Motion” platform for men’s denim and khakis also offers a comfortable waistband and durable construction made of premium stretch fabric.
Kim Yates, the vice president of marketing at Lee Jeans, said, “Over my past couple of years of being here, I sometimes joke and say, ‘Man, do we need this much technology in our pants?’ But the funny thing is, we actually do. The consumer [now] expects such a different experience from their clothing,” she said. “We actually intentionally put a lot of innovation into our jeans and pants and its been part of a 128-year heritage. You’re always going to see that intersection of style and innovation [with Lee Jeans],” Yates added.
The brand’s strategy for lee.com is centered on enhancing consumer experiences through technology that helps shoppers find the perfect. Yates said, “First of all, we know how challenging it is for a shopper to find the perfect jean and to do that in an online setting is even more challenging, so we’re working on fit guide information, video information and partnering with companies on 3-D and body scanning technology.”
Waldeck told WWD, “This is a team of incredibly talented and passionate people. They’re really proud of the brand they work for and I think the fact that they recognize the brand’s tradition and heritage creates a certain amount of pressure, but there’s also an element of pride,” he said. “There are a lot of employees that have been here for 10, 20 or 30 years that are native Kansas Citians.”
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