Dickies takes a look at fashion while staying true to its workwear roots

It’s not really news that utility-oriented workwear has been adopted by a crowd of people who admire it for its style rather than its functionality. For several years now, brands like Carhartt, Dickies and Wrangler have hung out in the closets of artists, musicians, fashion editors, art directors, influencers and Urban Outfitters buyers. It doesn’t matter that these overalls, carpenter’s pants, overalls, and chore vests were originally designed for manual labor – something that probably wasn’t in the job description of most coastal creative elites originally. of this trend.

A pretty stylish male-minded friend who works as a graphic designer in an agency in Los Angeles is the kind of person you would expect to wear Dickies pants or Carhartt jackets to work, but he has a tough stance. against them: ethically, he contests the glorification of the “worker” uniform. As someone with a relatively cushy office job, he thinks it would be like dressing in a suit.

This take made me think. How do the brands themselves manage to engage and satisfy the most fashion-conscious consumers who have chosen to embrace this aesthetic (because it would be a bad deal not to) without walking away of their workwear roots, because that could alienate this core, blue collar customer, without whom they would not exist?

Zoe Kravitz wearing Dickies in Hulu’s “High Fidelity”.

Earlier this summer, I stopped by beloved LA boutique Fred Segal to experience Dickies’ very first pop-up boutique within a fashion-focused retailer, and it became clear that this question was also a priority for Fort Worth, Texas. workwear brand, which will be 100 years old next year. The pop-up has been a big deal for the brand, which has only a handful of brand name stores in the United States, which target anyone who depends on it specifically for functional workwear. This marked a big step towards the adoption of this fashion client.

It wasn’t necessary: ​​as with so many other brands that were adopted by communities other than those they were originally intended for (see: Vans, Patagonia, Champion), Dickies had little or nothing to do with it. this initial external adoption.

“We’ve been adopted by certain cultures for decades and decades; the music community has adopted us for as long as we can remember. And if you think about it, not only the artists love us, but the people behind the scenes who love us. build the sets, who build the stages, they also wear Dickies, ”says Kathy Hines, vice president of marketing at Dickies. a long, long time. ”There’s also, of course, the skateboarding community, where so many fashion trends are born:“ They need the most durable, long-lasting clothes in the world when they skate, and they There is nothing more durable than a product intended for heavy manual labor. It just so happens that it works for skateboarding too. “

Kaia Gerber in Dickies jumpsuit at Paris Fashion Week.

Kaia Gerber in Dickies jumpsuit at Paris Fashion Week.

Dickies has become more involved in fashion over the past five years. He has had a long and successful partnership with Opening Ceremony (RIP) and has collaborated with Stussy, Madewell, LA menswear boutique Union, Toga and more. More recently, in July, he in partnership with Halseyfrom the About Face makeup line to create two handbags. These have helped revitalize the brand and grow its consumer base.

In 2017, Dickies was acquired for $ 820 million by VF Corp., a public company that also owns Vans, North Face, Wrangler and, since last year, Supreme. Clearly, the company saw an opportunity for Dickies to grow even further.

As Hines explains, authenticity was crucial in hanging on to it all, as losing that would ultimately mean losing the brand’s initial appeal. “One of our greatest strengths is our authenticity and our truth as a workwear brand, and it’s something that we consider really, really very central and that we’re very disciplined about, because it’s is why we are adopted, ”she said.

Take on collaborations – rather than allowing other brands to put the Dickies logo on anything, the brand approaches these partnerships carefully and strategically.

“One of the things that we’re trying to consider is rooting it in things like our iconic product, because that makes it really unique and connected to us,” Hines said. “If we come up with a collection – I don’t know, I’ll just make it up, but – jackets, boots and outdoor sweatshirts, something that is not strongly related to our iconic work clothes. for blue collar workers, then that could put us at a risk that they stray from the brand, because then you are just putting your logo on something that is not true to who we are. “

Dickies icon campaign.

Dickies icon campaign.

Dickies recently launched a campaign highlighting what it calls its five icons: the 874 work pant, work shirt, coverall, overalls and Eisenhower jacket. It’s these iconic products that have been adopted the most in fashion, and while Dickies doesn’t disclose financial numbers as a brand, they’ve probably generated the most revenue as well. Dickies likes to describe them as “a blank canvas for self-expression” – they’re also what shoppers can find at the Fred Segal pop-up; throughout its duration, it was also possible to personalize these items on site with different illustrations and embroidery.

“Dickies had never actually celebrated the Iconic Five,” says Hines. “We just felt it was a very, very good opportunity to formally present them, talk about them and present them, both from a workwear point of view as well as from a more inspired point of view. work or lifestyle. The timing is also intentional because we are celebrating our 100th birthday from March 2022. “

Another tactic used by Dickies to ensure that it continues to prioritize and honor – not alienate – its original workwear consumers is to have separate product teams, one that focuses on performance workwear and one that focuses more on workwear inspired clothing.

“The way we don’t alienate them is that we take them very, very seriously,” Hines says. “We call our workers our athletes because they are: to do their jobs more efficiently with our high performance work clothes, that serves us really well.”

Inside the Dickies pop-up at Fred Segal.

Inside the Dickies pop-up at Fred Segal.

In addition to targeting more fashion-conscious consumers, Dickies has also, over the past two years, made more conscious efforts to meet the needs of women, starting by reaching out to a growing cohort of working women. underserved.

“We always say it: without work clothes there is no inspiration for work clothes,” says Hines. “If we don’t start from a place of authenticity – and for this woman who does manual labor or heavy labor – then we would enter the market for women without authenticity.”

She draws a parallel with the sportswear industry, which is still in its infancy to reach out to women in the same way as it does to men: “The men’s product was the priority. . he.’ We see this in the workwear industry; it’s historically very masculine. As we see women come in, if we are just aware and treat her with the respect she deserves as a worker who demands performance on the job, this is our place of truth, this is our place. authenticity. do look into the lifestyle or inspired by the work [product], it is from a place of a solid foundation. “

Hines is careful not to reveal too many details about what Dickies has planned for its 100th year, but it’s clear that more activations focused on fashion and womenswear are on the horizon, as its commitment to these iconic products and manual workers hopefully remains stable. Yet with the backing of a state-owned company and the resulting accountability to shareholders, there is always pressure to seek growth – and the risk of over-expansion. (Say, too many collaborations, or the ones that don’t quite match up.) At least for now, Dickies seems to be on stable ground: it’s approachable and respectful of people who think it’s cool, and people who originally made it cool.

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