In 1904, C.C. Hudson founded the Hudson Overall Company in the thriving textile town of Greensboro, North Carolina. Fifteen years later, he changed the company’s name to Blue Bell Overall Company, which became famous for using sanforized denim in its overalls to reduce shrinkage after washing. The brand acquired the Casey Jones Work-Clothes Company in 1943, securing the rights to its infrequently used brand name, Wrangler, under which Blue Bell introduced the 11MWZ jean to Americans in 1947. It came with a zipper fly and pockets positioned for comfort in the saddle, among other innovations.
While the Wrangler brand became synonymous with the Western market, it became popular with youths in the ‘70s. The brand continued to grow, and in the ‘90s, one in five jeans sold in America was a pair of Wranglers. Like many textile companies before it, the brand closed it’s last U.S. sewing plant in 2005. As the heritage movement grew in the menswear market over the next decade, Wrangler’s voice was regretfully subdued.
In recent years, though, the brand has quietly built a collection for the modern consumer while continuing to honor its rich heritage. Last September, Wrangler released a second collection of shirts, jeans and jackets with psychedelic artist Peter Max — the brand’s first collaboration with Max debuted in the ‘70s. Also for Winter ’17, Wrangler released its 70th Anniversary Collection, a variety of greatest-hits inspired from the brand’s archives. Most notably, Wrangler brought back an American-made collection of tasteful jeans, manufactured solely in Greensboro.
To explore the brand’s new moves, we talked to Wrangler Vice President and General Manager of Wrangler Modern Lifestyle Jenni Broyles. She shared the inspiration behind the American-made jeans, the importance of the brand’s archives and the new focus on outdoor clothing.
Q: What inspired the Made-in-USA collection?
A: It was inspired by our community. We’ve been around since 1947 and with everything that we do, we try to depend on our heritage and our foundation and our legacy. We created this line called 27406 — the Zip code that spans the three miles from where the product’s fabric was loomed [at Cone Mills] to the design of the blue jean to the sewing of the blue jean. That got us really excited. What a better tribute being in our hometown, Wrangler’s birthplace, and working with a partner like Cone Mills.
Q: How has the reception been?
A: It’s been fantastic. We’ve celebrated our roots in Greensboro, North Carolina for quite some time, but I think showing all the generations of people who worked on this product from designers to sewers, we were able to show that pride and the quality of our work.
Q: Wrangler has a rich history of product. How do you interact with the brand’s archives?
A: We depend on our archives regularly. Whether we’re making products for a Traditional consumer or a Western consumer or a Modern consumer, we dig in our archives and try to bring out pieces that tell our story. We feel that because we have this 70 years of history, we can use that to be relevant and modern to today, but use it with a new twist. For really any project, any season, we’re starting development on, the archive is our starting place.
The archive is where we go to have the ideas start to come to life for us. Particularly, I think, getting back into old product packaging and ticket and advertising, and looking at the style of the garments and a lot of the iconology — how the Wrangler brand comes to life through the buttons and the patches and the stitching. The reality is, our archives have been inspiring us for quite some time, we’ve just now really been going after a modern consumer with these archives pieces.
Q: What collections or garments are you especially excited about right now?
A: I think the 27406 Collection is probably the one I’m most excited about. The other pieces I’ve been really excited about are jean jackets in general. The jean jacket trend — everything from oversize men’s jean jackets on women to really sporty cropped jean jackets — these are all things that have been pieces for us that have worked throughout the decades. And seeing that really be a focus for us in our development has been really exciting.
I’m a lover of jean jackets. I go to all the vintage stores and the first thing I start flipping through are the vintage jackets. I think we’re doing a really great job at making them modern and relevant for modern consumers but really functional and durable for traditional consumers, so we’re able to have a lot of fun because we can balance to meet all the different consumer needs.
Q: What is Wrangler doing now that may surprise customers not up-to-date with the brand?
A: I think the newest things that would surprise people would be the fact that we actually have a modern business, that we offer this high-end $200 jean, that we offer product for that price point and that style aesthetic. If you’ve been a loyalist to the brand from a more Traditional retailer or Western retailer, you’re probably not exposed to those price points or those types of styles and aesthetics.
I think the other thing is our outdoor collection. Outdoor for us has been really exciting and something new. Wrangler has always been linked to the great outdoors — it has a long history rooted in the great outdoors, and our Traditional, Western and Modern consumers love the outdoors. So, we’re really embracing that love and passion for outdoor living with our Wrangler Outdoor Collection — that’s got shirts, shorts and pants. And I think for us, it’s been really exciting because it’s one of our fastest growing lines.