In 2015, Duer created a range of “stretch performance denim” manufactured from plants and various recycled materials, putting a new spin on jeanswear. Founder Gary Lenett talked with SGB Executive about the Vancouver-based brand’s inspiration, emerging opportunities outside denim, distribution model, and commitment to sustainability.
SGB: How was Duer founded? What was the inspiration?
Before I launched Duer, I had been in the denim industry for over 30 years. My brother and I had taken over the family business and were manufacturing denim for some of the biggest names in fashion, including Levi’s, The Gap, Guess and Ralph Lauren. I came up with the idea for Duer at a point in my life when I’d become tired of the endless trend cycles and the constant travel my job demanded. As a result, I decided to wind down my business, prioritize my health and figure out what was next. This included selling my car and relying on my bike to get me where I was going. What I quickly realized was that there wasn’t a pair of jeans on the market with enough stretch and comfort to handle my ride into work, that was also sophisticated enough for a day of meetings. This was how Duer came to be, starting with a line of Performance Denim, followed by additional categories of performance fabrics for bottoms, tops, and outerwear for men and women.
SGB: Duer attracts a lot of cyclists, hikers, skiers and golfers. Who is your target customer? Do they skew younger or older?
We’re primarily a men’s brand although our women’s collection is growing quickly. Age-wise, I’d say we have a pretty wide appeal, but our target demographic is about 25-40. Our product speaks to people who lead healthy, active and adventurous lifestyles and need clothes that can keep up with them. Our customers are looking for clothing they can wear anywhere from a commute to work into a day of meetings and out for dinner, to outdoor activities on the weekend. In a nutshell, our goal is to provide our customers with clothing for all they do in a day.
SGB: What makes Duer’s denim unique? Maybe the technologies that make them functional?
Our Performance Denim is unique in that it combines stretch, comfort, and sophistication all in one pair of pants. To achieve this, we took the classic look of a heritage five-pocket and integrated stretch fibers and performance features like our signature gusset for a lot more flexibility and comfort than your average denim. Added technical benefits like moisture control and antimicrobial properties keep the denim dry and fresh feeling.
SGB: Is denim still Duer’s dominant category? What other categories is the brand finding growth?
Our Performance Denim, which was the first product we brought to market, remains our top seller. While we’ve maintained the original style, we try to regularly introduce new washes to ensure our customers have variety within their denim collection. Outside of our Performance Denim, our No Sweat Pant is a crowd-pleaser and a typical first purchase for customers. The No Sweat fabric name is a nod to the comfort of sweatpants, which we combine with performance features found in everyday, stylish pants. The consistent feedback of the No Sweat Pant is the ability to wear it anywhere, and because of the stretch, the comfort remains unmatched against similar pants by other brands. Together, our Performance Denim and No Sweat Pant make up about 75 percent of our sales. We also recently introduced a new category we’re really excited about called NuStretch. It’s a lightweight, high-stretch fabric crafted from a blend of natural and performance fibers that combines style, comfort, and functionality. It’s currently available in a 5-pocket and trouser called the flex pant, and we’re continuing to build out the collection with a new jogger and shorts coming in Spring/Summer 2024.
SGB: Duer notably sells to chains including Nordstrom, REI, Holt Renfrew, Sporting Life, and MEC but also independents in the outdoors space. What’s your distribution model?
One of the key selling points of our products is their versatility, which allows us to cater to a variety of customer needs across different categories of retailers. Our main priority right now is to continue to expand our retail presence and brand awareness in the U.S. market. We recently brought on a new NYC-based VP of global sales, Burt Damsky (former Juicy Couture and Bench executive) to support this goal, while also continuing to build out our global footprint.
SGB: How important is DTC?
Since originally launching online, we’ve grown into a very healthy omnichannel business with over 1000 doors in wholesale, six storefronts and a healthy e-commerce business. In terms of what’s next, we’re looking at retail opportunities across North America. We also have plans to eventually set up a distribution center in Europe so we can sell directly to customers in that market.
SGB: Is your main job convincing stores about the performance denim opportunity?
Performance denim is what we’re typically best known for, but it’s become just one of many key product focuses for us. Our No Sweat collection is a big sales driver as well, and then we’re always excited to introduce new product categories. We see a lot of opportunity for our men’s NuStretch collection. It’s extremely versatile in that it’s sophisticated and polished so can easily be dressed up, and features Duer’s signature stretch and gusset which allows for everyday wearability and comfort.
SGB: What else is a big part of the Duer story and success?
What a lot of people don’t realize is that our products rely almost entirely on natural materials like plants and trees. In fact, 85 percent of our fabrics are natural fiber-based, with the goal to eliminate the final 15 percent of synthetic fibers by 2028. Performance has always been a priority for us, but we knew we wanted to be more than another high synthetic athleisure brand, not just because of my personal preference in the look and feel of natural fabrics, but from a sustainability standpoint. That means that since day one, we’ve relied on plant-based fibers for their natural comfort and performance. And, since we didn’t want to limit ourselves to the conventional high synthetic or existing organic fabrics on the market, we developed our own collection of fabrics that blend natural and technical fibers, giving our clothing incredible comfort and the ability to perform across any activity.
Photo courtesy Duer