First introduced in 1986 in San Francisco, California, the Dockers brand has been a cornerstone of menswear for 30 years. This year, America’s favorite khaki brand is celebrating this milestone by unveiling a special 30th anniversary collection, and sponsoring the New York Fashion Week: Men’s opening night party, where we had the chance to meet Dockers’ senior vice president of global design Doug Conklyn.
An admirer of all things American, Conklyn had many years of experience at some of the largest and most well-known global brands, such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Lilly Pulitzer and American Eagle, before joining Dockers in 2010. We recently caught up with Conklyn to chat about the company’s anniversary, the evolution of the brand and what the future holds for Dockers.
Q: How has Dockers most evolved over the last 30 years?
A: I think the biggest evolution over the past 30 years has been the continued growth in the more casual side of the business. Dockers ushered in the business casual movement 30 years ago, but what was seen as “casual” then is now considered to be “refined” or “dressy” today. Once upon a time, the “new uniform” was a sharply creased pair of khakis, a blue shirt and a navy blazer. But in today’s world, that look is considered to be quite formal. Within the casual world there is what I call the “casual continuum” which includes everything from jeans to casual khakis to refined khakis. Over the years Dockers has developed a range of pants that cover the full range of wearing occasions within the casual world, as well as the shirts, shoes, outerwear and accessories to go with them.
Q: What are some of the exciting new initiatives Dockers is rolling out?
A: We have three main initiatives we’re working on right now. We’re simplifying our product offering to make it easier for our customers and consumers to do business with us. We’re transitioning the majority of our product offering to include stretch. And we are focused on expanding the more casual side of our business.
Q: Tell us about inspiration for the 30th anniversary collection? Any favorite pieces?
A: The collection started out as my way of paying homage to the color and cloth for which we are famous, as well as my love of classic, iconic menswear. I took a beautiful piece of cloth and created pants, shorts, outerwear, belts, bags, headwear and shoes as well as coordinated knitwear, shirting and sweaters to complete the look. I actually started with 12 head-to-toe looks that ran the gamut from casual to refined, from shorts and flip flops to tuxedoes and formal slippers… all in monochromatic khaki. When we decided to produce a limited number of pieces, we ultimately edited the collection down to four complete looks, referencing iconic nautical style, American prep, military and refined tailoring. What I love most about the collection is how it elevates the notion of khaki beyond just pants and shows just how chic, masculine and versatile khaki can be. I love all the pieces, but my favorites are the Collegiate Chino, the Peacoat and the garment-dyed khaki T-shirt.
Q: What do you think of the current state of menswear?
A: It’s a very interesting time in the evolution of menswear and a time that plays well to Dockers’ heritage. Casual apparel has never been more important, but with all of the advances in performance and technology from the athletic and outdoor specialists, comfort has never been more important. So today’s consumer expects a lot more from his wardrobe than ever before. The thing is, he also wants to look presentable, or appropriately dressed for the occasions that matter to him. They are paying more attention to fit, nuance and accessories, so dressing casually doesn’t have to be associated with being frumpy or lacking style. You can dress comfortably and casually but with style and individuality.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the past few years at Dockers, and how have you addressed them?
A: Perhaps the biggest challenge we’ve faced has been overcoming outdated perceptions of the brand, particularly here in the U.S. We basically created “business casual” and while we started a revolution by offering an alternative to the suit, we became the very uniform we destroyed. Many associate Dockers only with pants and more specifically pants you wear to work. The truth is we design styles for just about every occasion in a man’s life, from shorts to jeans to cargos to casual and refined khakis, as well as a full line of apparel and accessories to go with them. The other common misconception is that Dockers khakis are loose and baggy. About five years ago we began introducing modern slim-tapered silhouettes into the collection, which has helped transition our business in classic and relaxed fits toward straight, slim and skinny fits.
Q: In terms of fits, what is your ratio of relaxed versus skinny styles?
A: Globally, our fit portfolio is balanced at 50 percent straight, classic and relaxed fits and 50 percent slim, slim-tapered and skinny fits. After 30 years, we sell multiple generations. Just as we have seen accelerated growth in the more casual side of our business, we have seen a dramatic shift toward our slimmer fits as well.
Q: Dockers is a moderately priced brand. Have you considered adding a luxury component?
A: While in the US we are primarily moderately priced, throughout Europe, Asia, Canada and Mexico we occupy a more elevated price tier with a differentiated “Premium” assortment. We will increase the distribution of our premium collections here in the US over the next several years by expanding our distribution channels and through owned and operated retail.
Q: How do you manage to be in both department and mid-tier stores? Not many brands can pull that off!
A: I think it speaks to the power of the brand. Dockers is the dominant casual pant brand in those channels. We may represent the top-end in some stores or the opening-end in others, but the consumer recognizes and value, quality, fit, performance and style of Dockers . He is loyal to the brand no matter which channel he shops.
Q: What will Dockers look like 30 years from now?
A: We will continue to see the blurring of lines between athletic apparel and traditional sportswear and casual “multi-purpose” clothing will continue to drive the business. Advances in fabric technology and garment construction will allow for greater comfort, flexibility and performance. And while “the uniform” will continue to evolve, our mission will remain the same as it was for the first 30 years, with a focus on designing comfort and performance into everything we do and helping guys around the world look their best.