Fashion

How Dockers Is Making Khaki Cool Again

WRITTEN BY CHRISTOPHER METLER
PHOTOS COURTESY OF DOCKERS
Everybody remembers Dockers.

Long recognized as one of North America’s favourite heritage lines, at its zenith, the khaki trailblazer astonished the clothing world by transforming casual pants into a billion-dollar business.

But it’s only by touring the Dockers vault at Levi Strauss & Co. headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area — glimpsing at their rich roots and witnessing firsthand how Dockers inspired a generation of men to show up differently to work — that you really begin to grasp the kind of impact Dockers once had on the culture of fashion.

“When Dockers was born back in the ’80s, it was at a pinnacle time. Men were breaking away from business suits and showcasing more of their individual style.”

At least that’s how Janine Chilton-Faust, the Global VP of Dockers Design, articulates it.

“It was a casual movement, but you could still look professional. Over the course of time, we’ve learned a thing or two about men, what they want and their relationship with their closet — and it’s simple. They want comfort, modernity, and ease. But they still want to look good.”

An accomplished design and development leader, Chilton-Faust forms part of a dedicated Dockers team tasked with tapping into 30 years of the brand’s innovation to rejuvenate their khaki collection.

Or, in more straightforward terms: to make khaki ‘cool’ again.

Not too long ago, Dockers defined the khaki category. But by the brand’s own admission, they lost their direction along the way in an attempt to diversify and began to forget their roots.

So now, to capture lightning in a bottle for the second time, Dockers has committed to staying true to their heritage and brand DNA: to keep khaki at the core of everything they do.

For her part, Chilton-Faust is no stranger to creating the vision — and strategy — necessary for products to capture relevant trends, win market share, strengthen customer loyalty, and drive profitability.

As the VP of Levi’s Design (Mens, Boys & Premium) from 2002 to 2006, she defined the brand’s design philosophy and was instrumental in launching a premium business for men and women.

Chilton-Faust eventually took the reins as VP of Women’s Design until 2009, where she built that side of the business through her team leadership, as well as redefined product vision and development of new fits to generate fresh business opportunities. Then, between 2009 and 2012, she served as VP of Global Design for Levi’s Women’s, a role which saw her craft, lead, and present seasonal concepts and product designs for multiple channels, while manufacturing an innovative global fit platform.

Hey, it’s probably no small coincidence that denim experienced its own resurgence in popularity throughout these very same years.

So now, how do Chilton-Faust and company intend to reinvent the men’s classic that is Dockers?

First, by introducing a product they claim optimizes khaki pants with comfort that goes beyond fabric. To effectively achieve this, the group researched what men truly desire in a pair of pants: comfort and durability.

“Our guy is on the go and he wants a fit that looks smart and a fabric that responds to his lifestyle,” says Chilton-Faust.

Through this recognition, the Smart 360 Flex innovation was invented, featuring a flexible waistband and four-way stretch for enhanced comfort.

“We wanted him to look sharp and professional, but still have the ease of movement. It’s an amazing fabric that works well on a workday or a weekend,” she says.

Dockers contends that there is no other product in the market like Smart 360 Flex, which modernizes business casual for the next generation of men. And as a means of generating the exposure necessary to make this next generation of men aware of it, Dockers is supporting a campaign they dub Always On, which aims to ensure guys aren’t just dressed for the occasion, but have the confidence to seize any opportunity.

“The idea is meant to inspire men whose lives can go in any direction,” Chilton-Faust remarks. “We want them to be dressed for all occasions, and feel comfortable and confident. It’s with that approach we feel we can reinvigorate khakis and the Dockers brand—we want to speak to and connect with loyalists and new fans around the world.”

Although the early results of Always On have been incredibly encouraging, Chilton-Faust understands that the road ahead to making khaki — and Dockers — a cultural phenomenon once again will be paved with unique challenges. It’s a crowded bracket, to be certain. But Dockers believes they own it and are ready to assert their khaki leadership in the coming seasons.

“The workspace isn’t what it was 30 years ago. We shop differently, so much has changed. It’s only natural that our relationships to clothing and shopping and how we dress will evolve. Dockers is again responding to how the world is changing.”