There would be no premium denim without True Religion. The brand that made its name with its trademark horseshoe and thick stitching faded from view in the past few years. But True Religion has big plans, plans to take over your closet once again. Leading the way is newly named interim chief executive officer Chelsea A. Grayson. Stepping away from her position as chair of the audit committee into a much brighter light, Grayson is excited to help build on the momentum of latest initiatives like millennial face Bella Hadid and a partnership with Manchester United. We took a few moments of Grayson’s time to pick her brain about the future of one of the most iconic names in premium denim.
Please tell us a bit about your background in the industry.
I am a Los Angeles native, so I have always followed and supported Los Angeles brands, particularly American Apparel and True Religion. I first spent over three years with American Apparel, ultimately as the CEO. American Apparel’s brand was struggling by time I got there, so we spent a lot of time rehabilitating the brand and reconnecting with the customer, from a product and marketing perspective. We also had to completely streamline our supply chain, so that we could bring the product to our customer at the right price point. And we had to overhaul ecommerce to give our customer a true omnichannel experience. We succeeded at those initiatives, and were able to sell the business to Gildan, which has continued to enjoy success with both the retail and the wholesale businesses. After we closed that deal, Goldman Sachs, who had been one of our shareholders at American Apparel, reached out and asked me to be their designee on the True Religion board. I jumped at the opportunity, having been a longtime consumer of the brand, and for the last year, I have also chaired the Audit Committee. The seasoning I gained at American Apparel has served me well here at True Religion in terms of evolving the products and marketing to give the consumer what they want and to speak to them in a way that resonates with them; in terms of working with suppliers and vendors to dramatically increase speed to market so that we can bring our customer incredibly current and fashion forward products; and in terms of enhancing our customer’s experience with us online. Also, because American Apparel was a global business, I have been able to lean on that experience to better penetrate global markets for True Religion, including Asia, the Middle East and Europe starting with leveraging the momentum we have from our hugely successful collaboration with Manchester United. The best news of all is that True Religion has such incredible brand equity including a heritage customer that has remained with us, and we continue to acquire new customers. Once you have that important foundation, the rest of the initiatives build very nicely on top of that.
The premium denim market has changed immensely since the early days of TR. How does a brand keep pace these days?
Our designers are on the road a lot. They’re out and about in the world. Whether they’re getting their inspiration from the incredible fashion at an event like ComplexCon, or from textiles in Italy, they’re acutely aware of current and upcoming trends, and also how to successfully apply their unique artistic vision to those trends. Improvements we have made and are continuing to make to our supply chain allow them to test the market relatively risk-free and then quickly bring to market whatever resonates with our customer.
What are customers looking for in their denim these days?
Customers continue to look to our denim for quality fabric, extraordinary finishing and the perfect fit, plain and simple. People use our denim as a building block to stack the rest of their look around, so it has to work every time.
The heavy stitching TR look, will it come back? It's considered iconic now.
Definitely iconic, and we always remember and remain true to our loyal heritage customer even while innovating new looks. So whether it’s heavy stitching or something else, we will always make sure to give our customer what they want.
What is the future of TR?
You are going to see a lot of new styles from us over the coming months, some in capsule collections and limited-edition collaborations (like a really special European capsule that we’re bringing here to the domestic market). We will be getting a lot of input from our customers, our influencers and stylists, so that we can deliver curated collections that perfectly fit what our customer (existing or new) wants and deserves. And, although you will still see denim, we will be bringing a lot of streetwear and street jerseys. Over the next year, the customer’s experience with us, from product, to how we talk to them through social media, and how we transact with them on line or in the stores, will become a very customized and personal experience.