Wrangler Parent CEO Says Apparel Industry Should Prepare for 'Global Casualization'
Corporate dress codes, whether written or unwritten, are changing. Look at places like fast food restaurants and airlines, which have traded one-size-fits-all uniform policies for more flexible options that allow employees to purchase different pieces to create more original outfits that still fit within the company’s branding.
For office workers, the pandemic has caused a tremendous change in the way we dress. A year or more of working from home has changed the way we think about dressing for work, shifting the workplace attire norms to be more casual.
Scott Baxter, president and CEO of Kontoor Brands, parent company of Lee and Wrangler jeans, said that this “global casualization” is here to stay, and apparel companies need to pay attention.
“People are going to dress more casual and comfortable,” Baxter told CNBC. “They’re very confident in denim and T-shirts, and they feel like it’s an expression, too. After being home for a year and a half, nobody wants to update their wardrobe to a really high-dress wardrobe.”
During the height of the pandemic, athleisure products like sweatpants and yoga pants were in high demand. For promotional products, companies went all-in on loungewear and things to get comfy in.
For the return to the office, whenever that happens, obviously sweatpants likely still won't fly, but jeans and T-shirts are becoming more acceptable as workwear, as we rethink the formal nature of going to work.
“We did a survey of a bunch of our consumers, and found that 84% of the people are going to upgrade their wardrobe, and a lot of that is going to be in the casual sector,” Baxter said. “Denim is going to actually be a big winner there, but so will T-shirts and some more different apparel likings from a casual standpoint. We’re positioned really, really well with that casualization globally.”
That casualization isn’t fully the result of the pandemic. You don’t see people wearing suits to baseball games any more, after all. But it did act as a catalyst to maybe speed things up to an inevitable ending where T-shirts and jeans are in even higher demand as clothes for both work and play.
And while work-from-home policies are still in place, casual apparel companies are going even more casual. Levi’s, for example, recently announced that it is acquiring yoga apparel brand Beyond Yoga. Levi’s hopes the move will bring in more than $100 million in total sales revenue for the 2022 fiscal year, according to Quartz.
Beyond T-shirts, jeans and yoga pants, companies that might have required shirts and ties might now allow polo shirts, half-zip fleece jackets or short-sleeve button-ups. For companies still requiring collared shirts, maybe they now allow shirts meant to be worn untucked. All of these casual options still have space for branding to fit in with corporate aesthetic.
This isn’t to say that the days of branded ties and blazers are over. But we can expect to see more demand for more laid-back options in the coming years.