Lee celebrates 130 years

by Stephen Garner
Mark Ballas (left), Ally Love (right)

Lee is celebrating 130 years this month. Founded in 1889 by Henry David (H.D.) Lee, the American denim brand was immediately a disruptor in the marketplace. From the early days in 1912 when the company produced workwear for farmers, coal miners, and railroad workers, to its current place as a major player in the denim industry, Lee played a significant role in American culture.

The brand was the first to introduce the one-piece Union-All and the groundbreaking zipper fly. By 1939, it was recognized as the largest manufacturer of workwear in the U.S. Preceding WWII, Lee was the first to bring denim to the women’s market in a major way, and forty years later, it became the number one brand for women and girls. Today, Lee can be found across all tiers of distribution throughout the globe, from specialty boutiques and department stores to mass retailers.

Lee never taking itself too seriously when it came to advertising. The brand introduced the iconic Buddy Lee doll to promote its overalls in 1921 and used the irreverent mascot for decades.

Hollywood took notice, which propelled Lee to even greater success and a place in film history. When denim first hit Hollywood in the early ‘50s, stars were seen in Lee both on and off the screen.

And in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the biggest stars in the world were wearing the iconic label. From musicians to supermodels and Hollywood’s rebels and sweethearts, the Lee brand was hotter than ever.

“Lee helped create the denim category and continues to define modern culture today,” said Scott Baxter, president and CEO of Kontoor Brands, the parent company of Lee. “Lee’s commitment to harnessing innovative technology and incredible quality to bring consumers apparel that looks good and fits great has inspired generations of brand loyalists and solidified Lee’s position as an icon in the denim category. We are honored to celebrate this milestone and are excited for our beloved brand and its promising future.”

“H.D. Lee would be pleased to see how far the Lee brand has come since its inception,” added Chris Waldeck, vice president and global brand president of Lee. “Today, we honor the brand’s rich history while planning for its future. A future that includes reaching new consumers in new geographies, with best-in-class product and brand experiences. We have built a strong foundation, and I’m confident this next chapter will be the brand’s best yet.”