Spotted in: Vogue Business “How Juicy Couture, True Religion and Ed Hardy made a comeback”
Brands that were fashion hits back in the 2000s are enjoying a resurgence. Juicy Couture, True Religion and Ed Hardy have bounced back after some lean years.
Back in the early 2000s, America’s True Religion was one of the coolest denim brands in international fashion. However, when Michael Buckley rejoined the company in 2019 as chief executive, he was tasked with rebuilding the brand after the pain of bankruptcy, alongside creative director Zihaad Wells, who had first moved to True Religion in 2006 alongside Buckley.
The bounce back has been impressive. True Religion will top $235 million in revenue this year, making it the “most profitable the business has been in the last eight or nine years,” Buckley says. He wants to turn it into a billion-dollar business in the years to come.
Brands from the Noughties — or Y2K brands — are making a comeback after years of battling to remain competitive in a saturated market. Besides True Religion, Juicy Couture and Ed Hardy are also building momentum again. Their business strategies? Collaborations, a broader product mix and an elevated embrace of e-commerce and social media.
Ed Hardy, an American brand best known for its trucker hats and tattoo-inspired graphic T-shirts, has expanded its product categories to develop into a full lifestyle fashion brand. “Over the past nine to 18 months we started to integrate into new categories — shoes, accessories, outerwear — and just sort of letting it unfold organically, not trying to over-instill ourselves into people’s lives and culture,” says Andie Lipton, SVP of marketing, creative and public relations at Iconix Brand Group (IBG), which first invested in Ed Hardy in 2009, paying a further $55 million in 2011 to build a majority stake.
Stepping too far away from the identity of the brand the first-time round can be risky. “That is also when they will start to lose their original customer base,” says retail and business consultant Sophie Biggerstaff. “Retained customers buy into much more than just the product; they buy into what the brand stands for. Products can evolve to target new trends and customers without having to move completely away from what they stand for as a brand.”
Old and new customers are flocking to Ed Hardy for its signature graphic tees and artwork, says Lipton. The brand is using original art created by the late tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy to make a reassuring link between new product categories and its heritage. “We have a plethora of art that we’re able to utilize and create a unison within our apparel, footwear and accessory categories as opposed to another brand, where everyone is designing into their own thought process. We have a library of art that we’re able to utilize,” says Ryan Sainsott, VP of brand management and operations at IBG.
A pricing rethink has been a fundamental move at True Religion, with jeans now selling for $149 rather than $250 back in the day. T-shirts retail for under $80. “We’ve got our price points at prices where the consumer shops today,” says Buckley. “With the size of our audience and with where we’re positioned in terms of brand image, product and price, we can now cater to a much wider audience.”
Digital-first: Reaching Gen Z
The relaunch in July by ABG of juicycouture.com has reignited Juicy’s e-commerce business. The platform, launched on Shopify, has been a game changer, says Fishman. “Pent-up demand has been phenomenal. Our audience, and the new audience… want to come to a branded space and really experience the brand.”
Younger customers are also drawn to new payment methods. Juicy Couture customers can use the buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) service, delivered by Swedish fintech company Klarna, accounting for more than 16 per cent of site sales, according to the company.
E-commerce makes up over 35 per cent of sales at True Religion and is expected to hit 50 per cent over the coming years as the focus shifts from vertical retail to digital communication. The potential for growth through digital is far greater, Buckley adds. The brand’s 140 store portfolio has been trimmed to just 50. “When we talk about controlling our destiny, it’s heavily through the digital experience.”
Redefining the brand
Juicy Couture, which is now owned by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), has tapped into the heritage of its long-time bestseller, a velour tracksuit. Nostalgia surrounding Juicy Couture is being leveraged as a springboard to develop further, expanding into new categories such as nightwear as well as developing spin-offs of its velour tracksuits. “The brand’s signature is that velour track. We have learned, don’t walk away from that,” says Natasha Fishman, CCO and EVP of marketing, lifestyle at ABG. “[But] as much as the velour tracksuit is a core line of Juicy, there are additional lines that continue to be developed.”
Ed Hardy, which has international distribution through over 50 retailers, is also focusing on digital. “Everything we do is in the digital space,” says Lipton. “Social is a big component of our brand and a way for us to talk to our community with a mix of user generated content, campaign images, artwork. And we’re getting into Tiktok.”
Lipton was surprised to find some 25 million Ed Hardy tags on Tiktok, given the brand originated before social media existed. Now, she says, “to have the opportunity to reach so many people in a social space is really beneficial for all these brands to resurface”. Over the past 12 months, Ed Hardy has picked up 16,000 followers on Instagram to add to its 1.5 million followers on Facebook.
Applying streetwear tactics to mainstream fashion, Juicy Couture is using a mobile app, Tapcart, to release exclusive drop collections. Its OG Big Bling velour hoodie in rose pink sold out within a day. Since its launch in September, the app has driven 20 per cent of sales, according to the company “The app has proven that the consumer wants it now and wants to know that these are limited edition with only a few hundred pieces,” says Fishman.
Collaboration maintains momentum
Juicy Couture worked with its partners in China to identify the most appropriate collaboration, says Fishman. A partnership with Shanghai brand Staffonly in September was a first in the Chinese market and the first collaboration with an international womenswear brand for Shanghai’s Staff Only, which is best known for its menswear. “[Our customers] got to see a revived version of Juicy Couture… It gave the brand a new outlook for future expansion here in China,” say designers Une Yea and Shimo Zhou.
Meanwhile, also in September, True Religion became the latest name to collaborate with Supreme for its Autumn/Winter 2021 collection. “We look at True Religion as a modern streetwear brand rooted in denim. I think Supreme saw that,” says Buckley. Some 40,000 units sold in minutes, he says. “It’s a compliment to do something with Supreme [and] it was really fantastic to see the consumer really resonate with the brand again.”
Juicy Couture collaborated with ABG-owned retail chain Forever 21, in the US, widening its customer base. “We saw an opportunity,” says Fishman. “[Forever 21] has great distribution, and a lot of our collaboration strategy is around pushing into further distribution and accessing a new audience.”