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From the Revolutionary War that facilitated the founding of the United States to the Black Lives Matter movement, America has shown that nothing is set in stone if people are willing to fight for change.
Also intertwined within the country’s foundation is denim, which, despite its seemingly benign presence as a fabric, denotes social change, as well. As fashion brands across the industry respond to calls for eco-consciousness, AG Jeans, a denim brand founded in 2001, has been a trailblazer in promoting sustainable denim.
“In the last 12-24 months, we’re finding that customers are caring more than ever,” said Sam Ku, president and creative director of AG Jeans, on this week’s Glossy Podcast. “They’ve decided that, yes, I am willing to pay a little bit more for something that is better for the planet. I am [also] willing to buy a little bit less and buy better quality and make it last longer.”
For AG, this shift in the industry manifested in the Jean of Tomorrow, a 100% biodegradable jean made of “eco-friendly” cotton and hemp fibers, complete with a “Coronado nut” button.
“Building a brand based on great product is the most important thing,” said Ku.
Unlike a majority of jean retailers, AG operates and manufactures its jeans at its L.A. and Mexico facilities that are “100% owned and operated by us,” said Ku. But despite this, the brand has not been exempt from the Covid-related supply chain challenges within the fashion industry.
“We’re able to stock a lot of our raw materials that we consistently use, [but] those that we don’t carry are hard to keep up with,” he said.
As for the future, Ku is focused on getting the company back to 2019 sales levels and “continuing to deliver the right product on time,” he said. “The brands that can do that right now will win.”
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
How AG is acquiring new customers after 20 years in the industry
“Acquiring new customers is a difficult and expensive task. Currently, we do a good job of retaining the customers that we have, as well as acquiring the customers that are already somewhat familiar with AG. We do that using pretty traditional methods, from a digital perspective… We advertise with Google keywords and branded terms, and Facebook, Instagram advertising; they are effective for us. It’s a testament to the strength of the brand. In the past, we’ve done a lot of print advertisement with the likes of all the best fashion publications, and we’ve also done extensive programs with out-of-home advertising, so billboards in L.A., billboards in New York City… We are a little bit light, from an influencer marketing perspective… [In] 2022, we are looking to double our marketing budget, and we’re making a big push to create more buzz around the brand… There are some old school things and different creative marketing things that we’re going to do that are not necessarily digitally native.”
From denim to knits: a ground-up approach
“One of the biggest pushes we made recently is from a category standpoint. We have always produced sportswear, but we wanted to perfect knits, like cut-and-sew knits, T-shirts and sweatshirts. And we decided to take it from a ground-up approach. One of the things that differentiates AG from our competition is that we own the factory, we own the entire manufacturing process. Most of our competitors have to outsource their production… Ours is through a factory that we own 100%, and we do it all in one building… From a quality control perspective, it’s a far superior process… The company has invested a large sum of money to develop a manufacturing process in our factory for those T-shirts, as well… We do all of it in-house. And we’ve launched a program that we’re calling AG Basic Essentials. And they’re every basic knit that a girl or a guy would need in their closet in great colors — seasonless, beautiful colors that you can interchange anytime… Another thing that we’re looking to launch is aged tees. Aged denim is something that AG is known for… A jean that looks like it’s been worn by somebody for five years… And we’re going to do that process for our tees now. It’s going to be tees that are very lived in. Imagine your favorite T-shirt worn and washed 50 times, 100 times. We’re launching that in late summer next year.”
Retail vs. wholesale vs. e-commerce
“We’re happy with the number of stores we have. We may add a couple here and there, but we’re not looking to double our store count or anything in the next five years. We want to grow that organically. There still are a couple of pockets of retail locations that we’re thinking about [and] interested in. However, we don’t see us trying to grow our brick-and-mortar too much. E-comm is a different story. Like every brand, AG’s e-comm business has done quite well in the last few years and continues to grow year-over-year. It’s a wonderful way to be able to communicate to our customer, because we get to control that message. And the most highly engaged customers are going to come see you in a retail store, or visit our e-comm and join our email list… We love our wholesale partners, as well. That’s another great way to keep AG top of mind to all of our customers and keep AG relevant. Wholesale is not something we’re looking to run away from.”