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Dockers at 30: More Than Just Pants

Belts, ties, wallets, hats, gloves, and scarves from Randa. Lime-green carry-on suitcases by Olivet, quilted barn jackets by G-III, boxer briefs by Mad Projects — these are just a few of the products bearing the Dockers name and contributing to the full brand aesthetic.


“We know the customer, even more than in the past, is shopping head to toe,” said Kristin Kulp, Dockers’ vice president of global merchandising. “Our consumer is going for that whole look.”

The company declined to reveal the size of its licensed business, but Doug Conklyn, senior vice president of global design, acknowledged that, based on the number of units sold, consumers probably see more licensed products than what is produced in-house. Retailers carrying the lifestyle assortment range from Kohl’s Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. to Macy’s Inc. and Designer Shoe Warehouse.

Among other categories are polarized sunglasses from FGX International, argyle socks from Royce and dress shirts from Oxford Apparel. Hampshire also makes men’s shirts, sweaters and women’s sportswear for Dockers, while Lanier Clothiers offers tailored separates and sport coats. Fishman & Tobin produces school uniforms and boys’ clothing sets.

Accessories are aligned with what it deems its four essential pants — The Jean Cut, The Broken In, The Clean Khaki and The Best Pressed. Take the wallets, which, along with belts, were licensed by New York-based Randa only a year after Levi Strauss & Co. launched Dockers. To match The Broken In, one money carrier has leather aged to look as if it’s been toted around for five years. The Best Pressed mirrors a sleek style stitched from shinier, softer leather with a feathered edge.
Everything is geared toward customers who span a wide age range but come across as “good guys.” In that sense, Conklyn explained, “There is an intrinsic need that drives them. It’s not extrinsic status symbols of success. It’s about quality, personal satisfaction, that need for integrity.”

Here are some of the brand’s key categories.

• Swimwear As a classic brand born in California, Dockers tries to ensure its DNA is evident in all licensed merchandise. This spring, it’s showing exactly how Californian it is via swimwear made by SG Cos., which already markets flip-flops and sandals for Dockers. The first collection includes trunks in an array of patterns and prints, from rainbow stripes and indigo ikat to bold florals and tiny palm trees on a sea of orange, and color-blocked rash guards emblazoned with the anchor logo.

• Ties Just because Dockers helped give birth to Casual Fridays doesn’t mean that ties are off-limits. In fact, Randa has sold more than one million ties and bow ties under the Dockers moniker. “Ties have become an accessory of choice,” said David Katz, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Randa. To cultivate interest among 18- to 25-year-old men who are buying the neckwear for tailgate parties, proms, dates and other occasions, the company created how-to videos with Dockers.

• Belts Men may dare to experiment with pants tinted novel colors like coral or baby blue, but they set some limits. “They do not want a red belt or a blue belt,” said Katz. “They want a brown belt with a red accent. When you give too much fashion, the Dockers customer doesn’t respond.”

On the other hand, the Dockers guy loves a twofer. Introduced in the mid-Nineties, the reversible belt that switches between black and brown leather with a pivot of the buckle is always a bestseller. What could have been a gimmick “ends up being a hugely important style in the section,” said Dockers’ Conklyn.
The stretch and comfort that Dockers promises in its pants also apply to belts: A leather belt with a rubberized inner section that allows for pliant pulls is in the pipeline for fall.

• Shoes Shoemaker Genesco Inc., founded in 1924, has held Dockers’ men’s footwear license for 25 years. According to its annual report for the fiscal year ended Jan. 31 of last year, Genesco’s net sales of Dockers shoes totaled about $82 million. Among the styles that the Nashville-based company sells exclusively in North America and certain Latin American countries are boots with lug soles, chukkas and a classic cap-toe oxford dress shoe, dubbed the Gordon, which has been a consistent seller since its introduction a decade ago. Following last spring’s launch of a light shoe called the Flyweight, Genesco will market the Boulevard Collection in the fall. Integrating memory foam and technology from the athletic field, a Boulevard style weighs 1.3 pounds, less than half of the 2.8 pounds of a traditional oxford. “Comfort is an integral part of everything we make for Dockers,” said Andy Gilbert, president of Genesco’s licensed brands business.

• Wallets, handkerchiefs and more Comfort is also important in Dockers wallets. As more men store photos in their smartphones instead of their billfolds, wallets have become slimmer. Still, they must be more than thin strips of leather. Credit cards embedded with chips are at risk for scanning technology that can steal personal information. “We now build into a lot of wallets an RFID [radio frequency identification] shield,” said Katz. “It’s hidden and doesn’t look tech-y, but it protects your identity.”

While already creating belts, wallets, ties, dopp kits, gloves and scarves for Dockers, Katz also sees opportunities in lapel pins, handkerchiefs and pocket squares. To be sure, Katz is careful not to overstep the boundaries of haberdashery with garish colors, providing just enough panache to allow the Dockers guy to stand out.

This story first appeared in the January 27, 2016 issue of WWD.

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