Men’s jeans seller Lee India trying to woo women

Lee India general manager Sharad Walia says women’s jeans is a fast growing category for company and now makes a ‘significant chunk of the business’


Earlier this month, the Bangalore-based VF Brands’ Lee Jeans announced Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez will be its brand ambassador.
Earlier this month, the Bangalore-based VF Brands’ Lee Jeans announced Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez will be its brand ambassador.

Mumbai: Men’s jeans maker Lee India, owned by Bengaluru-headquartered VF Brands, is trying its hand at selling jeans to women.

Earlier this month, the Bangalore-based VF Brands’ Lee Jeans announced Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez will be its brand ambassador.

“We deliberated over the choice of brand ambassador for a long time,” Lee India general manager Sharad Walia said in a phone interview. “While you are right that we are a quintessential men’s brand, we have a sizeable business from the women’s brands.”

Walia said the company stayed gender agnostic in its search for a brand ambassador. “We were focused on bringing someone who brings vivaciousness and the spirit of adventure that Lee stands for. We do believe that a woman endorsing menswear jeans is normal today.”

Walia says women’s jeans is a fast growing category for company and now makes a “significant chunk of the business”, although he declined to share how much it contributes to the brand.

Lee has spent decades building a brand image of the strong American man, especially with the classic tagline “The Jeans that built America”. Its sister brand Wrangler also marketed itself as a brand of jeans infused with the machismo of the American West, with the tagline “There’s a bit of the West in all of us”. Lee could now find it hard to completely pivot its image in the market to cater to women after years of focusing on selling the alpha male jeans.

Harminder Sahni, founder and managing director of retail consultancy Wazir advisors lays out the challenge. “For most denim wear brands in India, women’s jeans are an addendum,” he said. “The women’s jeans category is much smaller than men’s jeans although it’s growing faster than men’s jeans. But there are still no companies that are completely dedicated to making them for women.”

As a result, fast fashion brands like Inditex’s Zara, Forever 21, and now H&M have captured a burgeoning women’s jeans market. These brands are attractive also because they have short life cycles and can put out new pairs of jeans for women faster and more frequently. In contrast, larger denim-dedicated brands deal in longer product life cycles.

Data on how much fast fashion brands sell jeans in India is difficult to come by since most of these retail chains do not disclose their sales by categories, an analyst with an equities brokerage firm said, requesting anonymity. “However, fast fashion brands like Zara have begun to dominate wardrobe share across all categories,” he said.

Could this competition from lower-cost fast moving fashion brands be a challenge for Lee?

Walia doesn’t think so, saying that fast fashion may actually be helping Lee. “We’ve seen fast fashion brands come in and widen the market, increasing consumer education for our consumers,” he said. “Once a woman buys a pair of jeans from one of these brands, and is more open to wearing them regularly, she may move up to invest in other brands.”

More From Livemint