How Santiago Cucci has re-energised Dockers
While Levi's rhymes with jeans, Dockers, its younger sibling within the Levi Strauss & Co. group, has been synonymous with casual trousers since its creation in 1986. Chinos and cargo pants are Dockers’s signature items, though the brand is trying to broaden its appeal by developing an array of new products, notably in womenswear, and adopting a new register.
For a number of seasons, Dockers tried to appeal to a clientèle consisting of young businessmen, by choosing start-up entrepreneurs as brand ambassadors. Since 2020 however, Californian living has become its new mantra. Testifying to this change in direction, Dockers’s brand ambassadors are now young actors, like Alex Gonzales in Spain, or athletes like Frenchman Matthias Dandois, the BMX Flatland world champion. A new approach driven by Senior Vice President & Global Head of Dockers Santiago Cucci, who took charge of Dockers in early 2020, having formerly been head of sales for Levi’s on the US market.
“Dockers invented Casual Friday. At the end of the 1980s, its management sent a letter to Californian company bosses suggesting employees adopt a more casual dress code for the end of the week,” said Cucci. “Chinos gradually became an office look. But I don't think [Dockers] is just that. It has a Californian approach to style. Some labels are representative of the East Coast spirit, but Dockers embraces the San Francisco state of mind. Matthias [Dandois] shares this state of mind, this being cool and completely involved in what he does,” added Cucci.
BMX champion Dandois will collaborate with Dockers, and wear the Californian label for his sporting activities and daily life. The core of the collection presented with Dandois, who lives between Paris and New York, consists of chinos and cargo pants, but around them Dockers has built a complete wardrobe.
“We are successful in the toughest apparel category, being recognized for our trousers,” said Cucci. “Trousers are our core business. But in the last two years, we have also been very busy developing shorts, and we launched a line of tops called Original. I want us to have the best white t-shirts on the market. Genuine quality essentials. Chinos, t-shirt and a denim jacket, this is the Dockers look. And this will extend our product categories. We experienced very strong growth in 2021, coming from our trousers, shorts and tops.”
Dockers reported double-digit growth in 2021 over 2020. In the annual results of the Levi Strauss & Co. group, sales for Dockers and sportswear brand Beyond Yoga are aggregated, and they represented 5% of the group's total revenue. Dockers alone is said to account for sales worth €200 million.
Dockers is keen to maintain its strong momentum also in the coming years, regularly planning to post double-digit annual growth rates. “The brand still has strong potential. The main challenge for Dockers was to win over people again,” said Cucci. He explained that "we put in a great deal of effort, with a fully committed team and offices in San Francisco, Barcelona, Paris and Brussels. As well as additional staff in Mexico and Chile. In Asia we are currently building a team. In the first 18 months, it was all about setting up the project. We needed to convince the right people by assembling a strong team, people I knew at Levi’s or that I was keen to work with, like Johann Bondu, who is in charge of Europe and is someone I knew 20 years ago, when he was with Puma. Now that we’ve had a highly successful 2021, doors are opening more easily than two years ago.”
At a time when multibrand retailers in the USA and around the world have been severely hit, and department stores are generally reviewing their labels’ selection and even their product segmentation, one of Dockers’ challenges was staying on the map. “The brand’s authenticity remains an asset. But we needed to tell the right story. Given the current economic situation, I think we are offering remarkable value for money, while the price of a gallon of gasoline is rising. And we have the advantage of being able to tap the Levi Strauss group’s supply chain, a very efficient machine that also serves to reassure our partners at a time when supply chains are disrupted.”
Brick-and-mortar and digital growth strategy
However, the group’s ability to deliver is not the key argument that will drive Dockers’s growth. The brand’s development strategy relies both on brick-and-mortar and digital retail. In the USA, where many retailers have had to close down in the past two years, Dockers has strengthened its presence at chains like Macy's, Kohl's and JC Penney. It has also started to expand its e-tail presence, giving its website more of a lifestyle look and working with Shopify, as well as partnering with names like Target and Amazon. Cucci said that Dockers “has developed a business with Amazon over the past three years that is quite impressive. What I like about e-tail is that we can test ideas and move fast. And Amazon is a great partner for this. When we insisted on the shorts category, we saw with [Amazon] that there was a response. It is no longer like the old world, when you had to convince wholesalers and then wait a year for the first sell-out results. This is what’s so brilliant. Amazon is a partner, and we are launching womenswear in the USA with them. In Europe, we have a great relationship with Zalando, and we are launching womenswear with them in March.”
Womenswear is clearly a growth area for the Californian label. In Europe, after a test in several El Corte Inglés stores, Dockers deployed retail corners in 18 of the Spanish chain’s branches. And more are coming. In France, department store Le Printemps will test the brand’s potential from the end of March at its Nation branch in Paris.
“In fact, 50% of our customers are women buying for men. They know the brand, for its authenticity and quality. We have three basic fits and two fashion ones, which will change according to trends. And it’s working well. There is no reason why [womenswear] should not account for half of our business within five years,” said Cucci.
In 2022, Dockers is expected to introduce the new range at a first mixed retailer in France, to be followed by an opening, whose location has not yet been revealed, later this year.
Cucci believes that, by growing the womenswear and tops categories, Dockers still has great potential in North America, but the brand is also advancing elsewhere around the world. Its overseas business, which accounted for 30% of sales two years ago, now accounts for a 50% share. “Our main markets are in South America but also in Spain, where we reach customers looking for trendy chinos, but also those who opt for the classic blazer, white shirt, chinos and Sebagos look. We are also doing very well in Turkey. We have opportunities for growth in these markets. But we are not present in the UK, the Middle East and China. India too seems to be a market with very high potential. And we have a window of opportunity in Asia with our Atelier & Repairs range,” said Cucci.
This is perhaps the most original project undertaken by Dockers in recent months. The brand has teamed up with Maurizio Donadi's Atelier & Repairs circularity platform to create a range called Transnomadia, featuring vintage Dockers items. The line is available on the brand's US e-shop and soon at Ron Herman in Los Angeles. The operation allows Dockers to feature much more directional looks, with items priced up to $400 in some cases, and to generate fresh demand for its products. Between inspirational brand ambassadors and this more directional range, Dockers wants to dial up its appeal. An approach that in the coming months will be embodied in high-impact collaborations.
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