New DTC toolkit   //   April 2, 2024

Dockers is trying to make younger customers rethink khakis

Dockers wants to make khakis cool by targeting millennials and Gen Z.

The apparel and accessories brand, a division of Levi Strauss & Co. founded in 1986, is in the middle of a multi-year modernization plan. In the last several years, the company has been focused on capturing more shoppers in the 25-to-35 age range. One of the first moves was to update styles and embrace Dockers’ vintage roots, by introducing minimalist bottoms and tops in comfortable fabrics. The company is also growing its direct-to-consumer business through e-commerce and by opening stores around the world.

As part of the revamp, this week, Dockers unveiled a new Live Original marketing campaign featuring several ambassadors that include model Taylor Hill and NBA player Jordan Poole. The campaign centers around these ambassadors, taking the classic khaki pants and pairing them with staples like sneakers, denim and button-downs. It will include a mix of digital, social media and in-store ads. These marketing efforts are emblematic of how Dockers is trying to reach younger customers while staying true to its khaki roots.

Dockers CEO Natalie MacLennan, who took over the role last year, told Modern Retail the brand’s refresh journey began about four years ago. The goal was to broaden Dockers’ appeal and position its products as more hip and suited for casual wear.

“The generation that grew up with Dockers are still loyal to the brand,” MacLennan said. But it’s among younger customers where Dockers sees potential growth. To reach these shoppers Dockers is focusing on different sales channels. “We’re getting new wholesale partners who are excited to come along for the journey,” MacLennan said, most recently at Free People. Dockers is also prioritizing its direct-to-consumer site.

Dockers’ aim is also to diversify by growing multiple segments, like the international and the direct-to-consumer portions of the business. International sales now account for over 50% of the business, with key overseas markets being southern Europe and Mexico. New market entries are planned for the coming years.

Dockers opened 30 new stores over the last year, and its owned fleet now sits at 100 locations. Only five of the stores are located in the U.S., MacLennan said. Much of the physical expansion is happening in Latin America, Europe and parts of Asia. “We’ve now seen double-digit growth in DTC in the last three years,” she said.

“The third piece we’re working on is winning with the young consumer,” MacLennan said. “Dockers was a brand that came to life in the 1980s and had a meteoric rise on its khaki pants, and coined ‘casual Fridays.‘”

Now, the company wants to reclaim these roots by creating casual, work-appropriate apparel for today’s young professionals.

The Dockers design team has been updating designs to reflect changing tastes, MacLennan said. There is a big focus on sustainably-made classics like dress khakis, chinos and soft tees.

Nic Rendic, global creative director at Dockers, said the brand is building lines around its bestselling pants. “Pieces like polos, sweaters, and button-down shirts that help tell the khaki story,” Rendic said. There is also a greater emphasis on flexibility and comfort by featuring moisture-wicking and stretch fabrics.

“But we also don’t want to move away from what we’re known for,” MacLennan said.

Another way Dockers is trying to target younger generations is by getting into secondhand via a vintage section. Last summer, the company released a vintage-inspired collection in collaboration with BMX world champion Matthias Dandois.

Dandois is also returning as part of Dockers’ latest “Live Original” campaign, joined by new brand ambassadors like Peruvian singer-songwriter Nicole Zignago and Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina.

Brian Ehrig, partner in the consumer practice of Kearney, said the top challenge for legacy brands that want to reach younger customers is having the right digital strategy and executing well. “Some legacy brands struggle in this because they are stuck in a wholesale mindset that thinks about customers as retailers, rather than thinking about the end consumer of their product,” Ehrig said.

“Additionally, the stories around the products have got to be updated for a consumer who might think of Dockers as something their dad or grandpa wears,” he said. For example, updating the fit and fabrics to show sustainability is a priority. Vintage is also a tried and true idea that promotes a “buy now or lose it forever” impulse, Ehrig said. “Given the old-school blocky styles Dockers is known for is currently hot, this could be very interesting for them if they can acquire the product.” He pointed to J.Crew as an example of a company that’s had success with dropping limited-edition capsules.

The new Dockers campaign reflects the brand’s new ethos of encouraging people to style Dockers pieces in their own way.

“Dockers used to be work and city-focused, but we’re trying to show it as a versatile blank canvas,” MacLennan said. “We want them to see Dockers is still rooted in khaki pants but it’s also more than that.”