Kontoor Rolls Up Its Sleeves to Expand T-Shirt Category

By: Kontoor Brands News Team Jul 06, 2021 Feature Story Tags: Product, Kontoor

In closets across the world, there is no dynamic duo like the T-shirt and jeans. Recently, Kontoor Brands, parent company to the Wrangler and Lee brands, shared its intention to accelerate growth in the T-shirt category during the next three years.

As outlined during its 2021 Investor Day presentation outlining its 3-year growth strategy, Kontoor detailed a new approach to growing its “business within a business” T-shirt opportunity alongside its denim collections – from new licensing opportunities to new fits and materials, and beyond.

“T-shirts represent an enormous growth category, and there are three key areas where we are focusing our efforts: logo tees, lifestyle tees and licensed plus collaboration content,” said Jimmy Shafer, Vice President of Merchandising at Wrangler.

With a dynamic mix of brand, wholesale, and retail experience, Nathan Barnard, VP/GM Global Graphic Knits, has been tapped to lead Kontoor through its new T-shirt approach and business opportunity. Barnard’s focus on tees is to create an authentic, quality-driven connection with new consumers and building new category fandom with brand loyalists.

“We own our fit: we’re not buying blank T-shirts and printing on them like many other competitors in this space,” said Barnard. “We build from a canvas level. From when you first touch that shirt with your own hands, to wearing it every day – at the neck, at the sleeve, and on the hem – it should feel amazing beyond the shirt’s graphic content. Those are the subtleties we've paid a lot of attention to in building out our fits.”

Shafer expanded on the reasoning behind this category focus, citing rising growth in market share for Lee and Wrangler, and accelerating the desire for new and loyal consumers to prominently display these brands on logoed apparel.

“T-shirts provide a canvas for us to emotionally connect with consumers with graphic art that emphasize their unique personalities and showcase aspects of their self-identity,” said Shafer. “Given the strong brand heritage of both the Wrangler and Lee brands, we believe there are clear pathways to create Tees that will resonate with current loyalists and attract new consumers.”

During Investor day, Kontoor revealed a new U.S. wholesale distribution plan in graphic tees across both Lee and Wrangler for the second half of 2021. These new partnerships will allow Kontoor to refine its T-shirt business model while fine tuning key learnings surrounding consumer preference as the business scales.