Just three years after its UK launch, US denim brand Not Your Daughter’s Jeans is achieving phenomenal growth by wooing older women with its patented shapewear styles. Yet its European boss says there’s more to come
If Stephan van Kruisselberge had been asked whether sat-nav firm TomTom, where he used to work, could have grown from €36m (£30m) to €2bn |(£1.66bn) in five years, he would have laughed. But that’s exactly what happened during his tenure as vice president marketing and global brand director, fuelling Van Kruisselberge with similar ambitions for Not Your Daughter’s Jeans (NYDJ), the US denim shapewear brand over which he now presides in Europe.
“If you have a brand that has a promise and delivers on it, I think [growth like TomTom] is possible,” he explains, adding that NYDJ is experiencing growth of 300% in Europe compared with last year, when the company was already growing at 200% a year. In the UK, NYDJ has 300 stockists, including John Lewis and Fenwick, and Van Kruisselberge is confident of adding another 200 to the list.
Given the satisfaction of its existing customers, that figure may not be too difficult to achieve. John Lewis started selling NYDJ in spring 09, stocking seven pieces. For autumn 09, the department store doubled its offer - and the sales doubled too. For spring 10, John Lewis is seeing a 250% uplift on sales of the brand compared with last year.
“It’s a real word-of-mouth brand. Once customers try them on, they find them so comfortable and they drop a dress size too,” says Jo Hooper, John Lewis head of buying for womenswear, referring to the stretch quality on the jeans which means a customer who may be a size 14 in another brand is a size 12 in NYDJ. “As long as NYDJ keeps doing that and pushing the design forward [they can continue to succeed].”
The promise that NYDJ delivers on, according to Van Kruisselberge, is one of “emotion meets function”. He explains: “I joined the brand when it was halfway through its rebranding from Tummy Tuck Jeans to Not Your Daughter’s Jeans and that’s what attracted me to it. All jeans were being made for 18-year-olds - I’m exaggerating - but NYDJ gave women in their 30s and 40s-plus the opportunity to wear jeans again.”
NYDJ offers more classic styles - the brand’s best-selling style in the UK is a bootcut jean in black, followed by a straight-leg jean with a slightly higher waist, both of which retail for £139. On the function side, NYDJ delivers its promise via a patented cross-stitch technology, which provides a two-way stretch on a flexible waistband, giving the appearance of a flat tummy. In addition, if a customer passes the “sit down” test - where once you sit down, your “muffin-top” is nowhere to be seen - then Van Kruisselberge is satisfied.
Van Kruisselberge’s arrival at NYDJ came shortly after US private equity firm Falconhead Capital acquired a controlling stake in 2008. He joined as head of Europe after the firm appointed Edwin Lewis, former chief executive of Tommy Hilfiger and president of Ralph Lauren womenswear, as chairman and chief executive of the company as a whole.
Lewis’s appointment signalled a clear move by NYDJ to build on the brand’s fashionability, a sentiment shared by Van Kruisselberge. While he is still committed to developing the technical side of the product, he is also pushing the design credentials and looking to expand product categories. “[By focusing solely on technology] we limit our target audience so if we bring in the fashion element, we open up the opportunities to more customers, including younger shoppers,” he says.
NYDJ has been introducing more trend-led product, with slimmer silhouettes and details such as studding on pockets, while its jeggings “fly out” of the stores, according to Van Kruisselberge. But wouldn’t a name like Not Your Daughter’s Jeans alienate a younger consumer? “If the customer likes the product and it fits her, I think she appreciates the pun,” he argues.
Christian Lawaczeck, managing director of Genus Fashion, the UK agent for NYDJ, admits the company may need to target a younger UK customer via a sub-brand, but remains confident of NYDJ’s potential to become a trend-led brand. “I saw one of our customers last week, who buys all the huge denim brands, and she said NYDJ is the fastest-growing brand for them - the owner herself wears it,” he says, adding that NYDJ has plans to broaden its offer to include other non-denim UK categories like trousers. The fact that NYDJ’s best-selling sizes are getting smaller at eight to 14 could also signal the brand’s popularity among younger shoppers.
One clear advantage of not going too far down the directional fashion route is that NYDJ can offer a strong, never-out-of- stock service to its customers. Lawaczeck was still selling spring 10 product in June and sold autumn 09 stock until December 24 last year. “Retailers are being asked to place tens of thousands of orders in advance, not knowing what’s going to happen to the economy,” says Lawaczeck. “More and more customers are buying in-season and we will happily exchange product for our customers - if a brown jean isn’t working, we’ll swap it for a black pair.”
But for all NYDJ’s in-built technology and growing sales, the brand is still relatively young in the UK, having entered the market in 2007, and there is nothing to stop other brands, or indeed high street retailers, from offering similar product at a fraction of the price. In February, German womenswear brand Olsen relaunched Dutch shapewear trouser brand Rosner into the UK to compete with NYDJ. Rosner’s wholesale prices range from £30 to £45, compared to NYDJ’s £48 to £69 for jeans.
“Competition is good,” insists Van Kruisselberge, while Lawaczeck adds that “everybody who sells a pair of jeans worries me. But competition keeps our minds sharp and we have a loyal customer base. Marks & Spencer or Uniqlo could launch [a similar concept] tomorrow but people still buy into brands they trust.”
To keep ahead of the competition, would Van Kruisselberge consider launching menswear? “We probably wouldn’t launch Not Your Father’s Jeans,” he says. “But if there’s an opportunity in menswear, we’ll look at it. But at the moment, we’re quite satisfied.”
Will the brand be forced to change its pricing architecture as a result of competition and rising cotton prices?
Pricing has stayed stable and is subject to currency fluctuations, but we’re protected by our more premium positioning. Whether a pair of jeans is £125 or £129 is not as important [to our customer] - product is what matters.
Where will growth come from?
We have 2,000 distribution points across Europe, but we can be in more countries. We still have a limited presence in Spain and we’re looking at Italy and France too.
Would you consider launching non-technical products?
Never say never. My ambition is to cater for a long-forgotten audience [of 30-plus women].
Does the US market differ from the European markets?
In the US, NYDJ is a strong, established brand, and we invest a lot in advertising, but it’s not as cutting edge in design as Europe. Our European collection is more fashion-led, with slimmer cuts.
Who is your fashion mentor?
[NYDJ’s overall chairman and chief executive] Edwin Lewis. He understands retail, brand and product, as well as the relationship aspects of the business. A rare combination.
What would be your dream job (apart from fashion)?
It would have to be the manager of a yacht club. I love the fresh air when sailing, and the whole atmosphere around it.
2009 Chief executive, Europe, Not Your Daughter’s Jeans
2004 Vice president marketing and global brand director, TomTom
2001 Senior marketing and communication adviser, Nuon
1998 Brand manager for Witte Reus, Dixan and Bref, at Henkel