Streetwear and surfwear brand Volcom has teamed with Cone Denim to produce a new line of “performance” jeans using technical fabric that has odor resistant, water resistant, anti-tear and extra stretch properties, in a move that Volcom hopes will save the brand from a fate similar to its contemporaries in the industry.
“It all started with the idea that we needed better performing denim in all elements,” said Brian Richardson, Volcom’s global youth and mens merchandising director. “People don’t need more basics, they need better quality basics. We’re going to be consistent here, and that’s how we plan to differentiate.”
The new denim collection, called the Stone Made collection, was in production for two-and-a-half years by Volcom and Cone Denim, a manufacturing company based in North Carolina. While testing the new line of jeans, Volcom turned to its sponsored team of skateboarders to provide feedback at different stages of production.
“We would prototype, get the pants on them, and then get feedback, so it became a collaborative process,” said Ryan Immegart, Volcom’s evp of global marketing. “They don’t want to have to wash the denim on the road, it needs to be durable, but it can’t look any different than a classic pair of denim.”
According to Immegart, the line of denim isn’t only for skateboarders — it’s also a relevance play. Volcom reported a 9 percent drop in earnings, to $122 million, in the first half of 2016. Kering Group, Volcom’s parent company which also owns athletic brand Puma, pointed to category-wide shortcomings as indicative of Volcom’s poor results. Competitor Quicksilver filed for bankruptcy in September 2015, while PacSun, a major wholesale distributor of Volcom’s, did the same in April. Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault said in the report that Volcom’s strategy against the abysmal “industry backdrop” was to improve its offerings.
As the athleisure trend takes hold of the market, more retailers are looking to technical fabrics to make their products more comfortable and durable than traditional offerings. Companies like Kit and Ace use elevated fabrics for luxury casual wear, while startup Ministry of Supply applies the approach to business attire. Katie Smith, senior analyst at fashion analytics company Edited, said that technical apparel is becoming so widely adopted, it was only a matter of time before it hit the denim industry.
“The added ‘science’ of fabric with technical properties helps brands differentiate in a flooded, but popular, market segment,” said Smith. “That’s resonating well with consumers and the impact is far reaching — even denim retailers are seeking more comfortable fits and streamlined, supported technical fabrics.”
During the testing phase of the new denim line, Richardson followed Volcom’s skateboard team on tour with a video camera to document the progression of the product. That footage is going to be used as part of the marketing campaign to show how the jeans perform in action. As Volcom looks for a way to differentiate itself from its competitors — which are, for the most part, struggling, along with Volcom itself — it’s prepared to make technical fabric an ongoing investment.
“It’s a product category that can help make us more relevant and reach more people,” said Immegart. “We’re going to continue to invest in it.”