True Religion Apparel Inc. is hitting the big screen.
Fourteen months after its acquisition by Towerbrook Capital Partners LP for $835 million, the Vernon, Calif.-based premium jeans company is launching a new marketing campaign built on the concept of “Fearless Style” and the tag line “Be So Bold” and centered on movie screens.
It will be among the most visible features of a brand transformation push that has been underway since the arrival of chief executive officer David Conn as the purchase of True Religion closed. The campaign will be accompanied by the launch next month of the first collection overseen by creative director Gary Harvey and a new store concept notable for the inclusion of numerous screens smaller than those at the local cinema.
Complementing a fleet of about 150 units in North America, new stores — in Manhattan and Brooklyn, N.Y.; on Michigan Avenue in Chicago; and in Las Vegas, Cleveland and Washington — will open over the course of the next four or five months. Shoppers will be greeted by 4-by-9-foot video screens with content supplied by True Religion and its customers, helped by sales associates bearing iPads and assisted by in-store kiosks providing information about the brand and its products.
“Our stores are highly productive and very profitable,” Conn told WWD, “but they haven’t reflected what we want the brand to be going forward. The new stores, like the new products, have a more contemporary look and feel and provide a better stage for our products.”
Some of the new features are already installed in the store in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center and a handful of other units and will be available when the firm completes the conversion of its Beverly Center store in Los Angeles next month.
The new Manhattan store will be located on Broadway in SoHo, although ironing out final details might extend its opening to 2015, and, at just less than 3,000 square feet, will be the largest of the company’s fleet. The Brooklyn store, across from Barclays Center, will be difficult to miss with four of the video screens facing the venue that’s home to the Brooklyn Nets.
Mary Alderete, chief marketing officer, notes that for the time being, the brand is stepping back from print, and putting its marketing investment into movie premieres including “The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part I” and on digital platforms including Hulu, YouTube, The Bleacher Report, GQ.com and Complex.com.
The “Fearless Style” concept grew out of the company’s recognition that the True Religion customer, male or female, had a certain “swagger.”
“Lots of brands can be seen as ‘outlaw brands,’ but what was important to us was the idea that our customers had a certain way of walking and liked a product designed to boldly stand out,” said Alderete. “Our fans are recognized for style leadership. They’re influencers, not wingmen or wallflowers.”
Many of them are heavily involved in social media, which plays a major role in what could be perceived as True Religion 2.0.
“One of the first things I noticed when I got to this company was that there was already a rabid fan base on Instagram, but the customers were essentially running it,” Alderete said.
Not anymore. Enthusiasts are being directed to post pictures or videos demonstrating their “fearless style” on Instagram, Twitter or Vine and add the hashtags #besobold or #entertowin. Prize winners will receive a $1,000 shopping spree and a feature on the brand’s Facebook page, but any number of entries will be fed to True Religion’s digital reservoir, from which content will be posted on its video and kiosk screens and on its Web site.
Nothing has been so closely tied to a “True Religion look” as the big, bold stitching that characterized its ascent as one of the leading brands in the premium denim market. With the company under new ownership and with premium and the rest of the denim market hit hard by oversaturation and shifting tastes, many wondered if the signature detail would be eliminated or at least toned down.
Conn appears to have never given those possibilities a second thought.
“We’re famous for details — stitching, hardware — that are amplified, and Gary is innovating around stitch and construction,” the ceo noted.
One example is a series of products to be released next month, in time for Major League Baseball’s playoffs, bearing the new “baseball stitch,” modeled on the herringbone stitching of a baseball. The company, Conn stated, is also doing more with its thickly stitched Super T models, including versions in corduroy and women’s versions on models with coated fabrics.
Conn acknowledged that the denim business has been challenging. Citing the “mature” status of the premium denim category and consequent pressures on profit, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the firm’s debt — to “B3” from “B2” — in May, although it estimated that sales, $467.3 million in the company’s last year as a public firm, rose to $490 million in the year ended in February.
“Our business has been improving throughout the year,” Conn said, “but what’s most important is that we’re managing a process of brand transformation. Our focus is on long-term initiatives. We’re not managing the business on a quarter-by-quarter basis.”