BOSTON – It’s easy to picture a Converse sneaker: the silhouettes are iconic, the canvas distinctive. But if asked to describe Converse clothing, most people would draw a blank.
That’s something the brand intends to change. On Thursday, the company will launch Converse Essentials, a mini collection that’s organized like a pared-down wardrobe: one T-shirt, one long-sleeve shirt, one zip hoodie, one crewneck sweatshirt, fleece skinny pants and a canvas backpack. It’s Everlane for the tomboy teenager: minimalist silhouettes and an emphasis on craftsmanship.
Converse Essentials for men, launching simultaneously, mirrors the women’s offering: six core items offered in five colors.
The firm is also launching a unisex collaboration called Converse x Fragments with streetwear designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, a frequent collaborator with Nike.
“For some time, our customer has been asking for more from us,” said John Colonna, global vice president and general manager of apparel for the brand. “Apparel as a business has never been fully leveraged. We see Essentials as a sharp point-of-focus. It’s something we’re going to be consistent about continuing for many years.”
The company, a subsidiary of Nike Inc., declined to project sales of Essentials.
At present, Converse apparel is an obvious grab: graphic T-shirts featuring the brand or the Chuck Taylor logo. Merchandise is sold through nike.com, not the company’s own web site. Converse once sold apparel in Target through its One Star label, but today that subbrand is only footwear. The company recently moved its apparel team out of New York to the Boston headquarters so that coordination could be tighter.
“We want to elevate the consumer experience beyond a one product proposition,” Colonna said.
For Essentials, Converse has used Supima cotton, 360-gram high loft French terry, four-needle seaming, collar notches and rubberized grommets (a nod to the company’s rubber-soled heritage). There are pockets to stash phones. Items are priced from $35 for a short-sleeve T-shirt to $90 for a full-zip hoodie, pricing that’s a tick higher than the current offering and more in line with the prices the brand commands overseas.
“In designing this, we were thinking more about styling, as opposed to style,” Colonna noted, citing details such as double-barrel cuffs and double-headed YKK zippers that can be pulled down from the top or up from the bottom according to the wearer’s whims. Converse hopes teens will bring their own accessories, layering and patina to these pieces, as they already do with the canvas footwear. And, of course, share their interpretations on social media. The company will be seeding product with social influencers, but declined to name names.
The goal with Essentials is versatile pieces that become a backdrop for the customer’s life adventures, said Colonna.
“We have this brand notion of ‘better with time.’ So though you appreciate your Chuck Taylors right out of the box, they’re even better with a year of use,” he noted. He said Essentials will expand in spring, adding in graphics and prints, and that consumers can count on being able to buy Essentials for years to come.
“This is not a one-time situation, but something we’re going to be consistent with season after season, year after year,” he said.
Along with online sales through the Nike store, Essentials will be available in Converse stores (there are six in the U.S.) and select accounts, including Concepts in Cambridge, Mass; Amsterdam streetwear retailer Patta, and West Coast specialty chain Undefeated.