Dickies is a brand with an almost 100-year history. Its strong roots in workwear are still a big part of the company's ethos, but by the '90s, the brand had risen among skateboarders who were in the process of making a shift in style and disciplines, and searching for a durable yet affordable pair of pants.

Skateboarders' adoption of the brand as their own was not an intentional marketing move by Dickies, but more of an organic evolution that seemed to represent the needs of a particular niche and speak to how versatile it's product really was.

As the ’90s marched on, and the SoCal streetwear style further emerged, Dickies began forging new paths, while rising among the mainstream music scene (think Gwen Stefani’s No Doubt days) and collaborating with authentic skate companies like Spitfire and Anti Hero. The result was a marriage of skatewear and workwear that was being embraced by a much broader audience.


The newest member of Dickies’ skate team, Jamie Foy. Photo: Dickies

Today, the Texas-based company has a more forward-thinking approach to how it speaks to a diverse range of consumers. Recognizing that skaters are a big piece of the puzzle, the brand has looked at refining some of the timeless pieces that have been a part of the collection for 50+ years. The rise of workwear in the mainstream, and the seamless crossover into skate and other markets like outdoor, has also elevated the company and it's authentic message in this space.

Dickies' Senior Vice President of Direct to Consumer and International Sales & Worldwide Licensing Michael Penn recently weighed in on the brand's strategy and how they are looking to innovate and put modern spins on classic, iconic products.

dickies workwear heritage skate crossover

Dickies Senior VP Michael Penn. Photo courtesy of Dickies

Can you provide a brief history of the brand as it relates to skate culture? How did Dickies become synonymous with skate pants and how do you see that legacy playing out today?

The interesting part is that it wasn't a deliberate act by Dickies to become synonymous with skate. It was all about the athlete discovering the brand on their own. Somewhere along the way the pants were co-opted from their workwear roots and put to use by skaters, BMXers and in some cases, even snowboarders.

We know skateboarders that remember wearing the brand in the 1970s, but a watershed moment for skate and Dickies came in the ’90s when a decent shift in focus from ramp to street-style skating took off. By that time Dickies, and specifically the 874®, had both the credibility and the reputation for toughness that lent itself seamlessly to the sport.

How much of your current overall sales would you say come from skate/action sports retailers? Have you seen an increase in the number of these retailers?

It's nearly impossible to give an accurate skate-specific sales number. A portion of the business comes through authentic, identifiable skate and action sports stores, but even more widely, skaters across the U.S. buy Dickies everywhere – hardware stores, sporting goods stores, mass retailers like Walmart and everywhere in between. Nationwide, it becomes difficult to put a finger on how many rings at the register are for work vs. skate 'work.'

In recent years, we've deliberately made the brand more accessible to skaters by increasing our distribution to skate-centric stores because we believe our products should be available where the customer is most comfortable buying them.

Discuss some of the product segmentation for this market – Dickies has specific collections geared toward different audiences. What are those, how long have you been creating them, and what do future plans around these collections look like?

For the longest time we we had our heads down, creating workwear for our core work customer. We're still true and authentic to that mission, but something interesting happened along the way. As Dickies became synonymous with skate, we felt compelled to stop and listen to what this new tribe of 'workers' were saying.

More than a decade ago, we began to put substantial resources into understanding this person, listening to their ideas, interviewing them, studying their motions and their needs. It was fascinating because we found a lot of similarities to actions performed by the 'traditional worker' – extreme bending, leaning and reaching. It was a revelation that we could be more deliberate about giving skaters more useful products from a brand they already embraced and trusted.


The updated 874 Flex pant is leading the way for Dickies’ future product model. Photo courtesy of Dickies

Why is product segmentation a key part of Dickies strategy?

To this day, there is still so much crossover between the skater and the traditional worker. However, there are unique tastes that come through in the action sports world that wouldn't necessarily fly on the job site, like more variety in color offerings – our Lincoln Green 874® is pretty well-respected at the parks.

Also, we're very conscious of the rise of female skaters and are working hard to increase our offering to her.

You recently tapped into the brand’s legacy and archives to reintroduce the updated 874 FLEX pant, building on this 50-year product. How often does Dickies revamp a product like this, and in this case why did you feel it was important?

Dickies has been a staple for the worker for nearly a century, and our brand has been the gold standard in twill work pants for more than 50 years, since the 874® was launched in 1967. We've made very small tweaks on the pant to adjust it to the male body of today.

But last year we made a major jump into the always-on consumer quest for more comfort by adding the FLEX component. We felt the time was right to add an update – consumers have become more accustomed to stretch and mobility due to the proliferation of sport brands and their acceptance in all facets of our lives. We thought, why not add stretch and comfort to workwear as well?

In addition to skate, what are some of the other target markets for Dickies? How do you see Dickies product crossing over into markets like outdoor and adventure sports?

That's a good question because we understand that the worker doesn't just work. They engage in a wide variety of outdoor activities in their off-time, like camping, hiking, off-roading or even farming their own food and livestock. We don't find it too difficult to translate our workwear features and benefits into these other arenas. You're just as likely to pick up our FLEX Duck carpenter pant for work as you are for a summer volunteer shift at National Parks or a desert overland trip with friends.

What does Dickies marketing strategy look like for 2018-19 seasons? What are some of the more successful strategies you’ve put in place and how are you looking to build on/replicate those?

We're continuing to market our full range of FLEX products because our customer deserves to be comfortable. We're building on that comfort position by designing more products that focus on thermo-regulation – which regulate temperature during activity, cooling when exposed to heat, and keeping you comfortable when it gets cold. These are ways we can support workers and skaters alike – no matter what you are up to, if you don’t have to worry about the comfort of what you are wearing, it frees you up to focus on the task at hand.


Foy, who also rides for Diamond Footwear, Deathwish, Stance and Spitfire, to name a few, joins Dickies skate roster, which also includes heavyweights like Vincent Alvarez. Photo: Dickies

Can you explain Dickies’ direct-to-consumer strategy?

We focus a lot on our Dickies.com business. The reason for that is to give our consumer a few things; they can get all the colors, styles and sizes that might not be available at a local store and we can introduce them to new products and messages that they may miss in the marketplace due to the high volume of content being pushed by so many brands. It's a store in the palm of your hand with so much product and performance information that the customer is assured to find the right product and fit for their specific need.

From Dickies perspective, what does the state of the apparel market look like at the moment?

We see a lot of good opportunities. Unemployment is down, and people are working, which means they need Dickies apparel and accessories to live their lives. We're in a unique position because Dickies can outfit you for nearly any active work, from trade jobs to tactical security, hospitality and even the medical industry. Every day we take the tried-and-true and make it even better, and as long as we continue to deliver on our promise, we'll be here for another 100 years.

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