True Religion Bound for China
True Religion, the American denim and sportswear brand with its heavily embroidered jeans, signature stitching and emblem of a smiling Buddha strumming a guitar, plans to enter China through a partnership with the Aurorae Group.
The expansion will involve opening freestanding and in-store True Religion shops beginning in 2024.
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Executives did not explain how many freestanding versus in-store locations there would be other than saying that combined, there would a mix of 65 by 2026, and a total of 108 by 2028.
The Chinese market is expected to represent 10 percent of True Religion’s global brand volume by 2026. WWD last year listed True Religion’s volume at about $250 million in volume. The company is striving to reach $500 million through e-commerce, wholesale and store expansion initiatives.
“The right partner is key to success in China, and Aurorae’s proven local market expertise will enable us to successfully grow True Religion’s presence throughout mainland China as well as in Hong Kong and Macau,” said Michael Buckley, chief executive officer of True Religion.
Asked about the split between freestanding and shops-in-shop, Buckley, via email, said, “Directionally, they plan to open a higher concentration of freestanding stores than shops-in-shop, but there is no specific breakdown at the moment.”
Asked where the first locations would be, Buckley replied, “The first store locations are still to be determined, but, not surprisingly, Shanghai and Beijing are at the top of the list. We’ll open the first stores with spring merchandise, sometime in the first quarter of 2024.”
The China stores will be licensed by True Religion to Aurorae. “We felt that Aurorae Group is the best partners for us because of their deep knowledge of the denim and lifestyle market in China. They bring a wealth of local knowledge to the table and really understand the local customer.
Aurorae owns Evisu, a luxury denim brand which is not considered a direct competitor to True Religion. Instead, True Religion competes with such brands as Levi’s, Guess and Fashion Nova, rather than premium denim brands like Seven For All Mankind, AG Jeans and Joe’s Jeans. True Religion’s manufacturer suggested retail prices on denim are $149 and the out-the-door retail is $59 to $99 on most jeans.
He said the assortment in China will consist primarily of True Religion’s core heritage products, which Evisu will buy from True Religion corporately. “They’ll fill in the gaps with locally made product to cater to locally relevant market trends.”
Buckley added: “We’ll be able to learn so much about the market from Evisu’s experience, plus there will be great synergies between the brands.”
Internationally, True Religion has 29 locations in Mexico, the Philippines, India, the Middle East, Indonesia and Taiwan, with two more coming in South Africa in the next several months.
The majority of True Religion’s sales volume is domestic, with North America representing the largest share, though Buckley stressed that the brand “has really just begun executing our international expansion strategy. There’s an incredible appetite for the True Religion brand around the world, and we expect China to become 10 percent of the global brand volume by 2026.”
In addition to physical retail, the partnership expands True Religion’s e-commerce presence in China. Tmall.com, JD.com, Douyin.com and Dewu.com, among others, will soon offer True Religion merchandise. True Religion’s own direct-to-consumer e-commerce business continues to focus on key markets, specifically growing North America.
David Pun, chairman and CEO of the Evisu Group, said a 10-year pact with True Religion was signed. “We are looking forward to introducing True Religion to a new wave of Chinese consumers and leveraging our comprehensive relationships and extensive retail networks in Asia to bring the brand to unprecedented new heights,” Pun said in a statement. “Aurorae Group is impressed by True Religion’s iconic heritage and cultural imprint around the world and will continue to push its influence globally.”
He said consumers in China are already familiar with True Religion.
As the exclusive distributor in China for True Religion, the Hong Kong-based Aurorae Group will have the rights to sell the full range of True Religion’s assortment, including core denim, heritage products and collaboration collections. Under license, Aurorae will also develop product across men’s, women’s, kids apparel and accessories specifically designed for the Chinese market, and collaborate with local partners and talent.
In 2002, True Religion emerged onto the Los Angeles denim scene by innovating the construction of the classic five-pocket jean. With its five-needle thread at two-stitch-per-inch process, the True Religion “Super T” stitch became a standout in the denim market.
Aurorae Group, based in Asia, is the exclusive distributor of Globetrotter and Off-White outlets, and owner of its “flagship” brand Evisu. Aurorae indicated that Evisu has has more than 350 points of sale globally, including 185 stand-alone stores.
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