True Religion’s Growing Faith in International Expansion

True Religion is extending its international reach with a far-reaching expansion plan entailing a mix of freestanding and in-store shops in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

New markets will be India, Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, South Africa, Lebanon and Qatar, bringing True Religion to a total of 26 markets outside the U.S.

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Locations will open this fall in Mumbai, Jakarta, Manila and Johannesburg, and in spring 2024, in Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul.

The disclosure this week follows True Religion’s announcement in March 2023 that the business would enter China by partnering with the Aurorae Group.

“Global expansion into high growth markets, anchored by our expansion into China, remains a key strategy for us for the near future,” said Michael Buckley, True Religion’s chief executive officer. “Predominantly, it’s going to be freestanding stores,” ranging in size from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet. Shop-in-shops through wholesaling with multibrand retailers will occupy a few hundred square feet in size.

The freestanding overseas stores will be licensed, providing True Religion with a royalty stream, while retail operations in America, Canada and the U.K. are company-owned.

Partners overseas include Samarth in India, Mitra Adiperkasa in Indonesia, the Aishti Group in Lebanon, Marcalec in Italy, and Corpus Callosum in South Africa.

In the works are 10 freestanding stores, two each in Indonesia and India as well as China, and one freestanding store each in Philippines, Korea, the Middle East and South Africa. Two shops-in-shop are planned, in the Middle East and in Indonesia.

In Asia, the Middle East and Africa, True Religion already has a total of 26 shops-in-shop and 11 freestanding stores.

Overseas, all stores will carry True Religion’s core collections for men and women along with key items, locally curated to appeal to specific market preferences. The offering of sizes will also vary depending on the region.

On the domestic front, earlier this month, True Religion opened its first new store since 2019, a 2,000-square-foot shop in Atlanta’s Cumberland Mall. It’s the brand’s 46th store in the U.S.

The Cumberland store features new visual merchandising, with updated fixtures to enhance the shopping experience. Features include new denim tables and half-body forms in a range of sizes. There are also new light boxes to highlight core denim pieces and their details, and the cabinetry for belts and handbags has been redesigned.

For True Religion — the American denim and sportswear brand with its heavily embroidered jeans, signature stitching and emblem of a smiling Buddha strumming a guitar — Atlanta is a logical destination. The brand has had several collaborations with Atlanta-based talents, including recording artist 2Chainz, as well as artist and designer Bluboy. The brand is celebrating its 21st birthday by going back to its hip-hop roots with collaborations with Atlanta-based rappers Lil Gnar and Kaliii.

Based on tracking data through the direct-to-consumer channel, as well as conducting very detailed consumer surveys every year, the company has a good read on where its shoppers are, Buckley said. “Where this customer is, is where we want to open physical retail,” he said. “There’s probably 30 to 40 more locations across the country that mirror the Atlanta market and fit into the demographic we have. We have a list. But we are a ‘crawl before you walk before you run’ kind of company. But we could roll out five, 10 stores a year if we wanted,” in select markets.

While store growth, domestically and overseas, is on the agenda, “The big growth drivers that are going to get us from where we are now to $500 million in volume over the next three or four years, are really our e-commerce business which is heavily focused on North America, and our North American wholesale business, where we have a major footprint. Then those are followed by retail and international,” said Buckley.

True Religion’s e-commerce, said Buckley, represents nearly 40 percent of the business, and is seen growing to 50 percent or more.

“Stores are still important but the reality is consumers are buying more and more online,” said Buckley. “People are just more comfortable going online, once they know a brand, their size, and can see the full collection of product versus having to get out to a store. With the pandemic, there was enormous growth in e-commerce and even into 2021. It’s kind of getting back to let’s say pre-pandemic-type growth levels.”

Long-term, the CEO sees True Religion’s international business representing between 10 and 20 percent of the total revenues, from the current 7 to 8 percent. “China will absolutely be the biggest international market for us,” with Western Europe, the second biggest, Buckley said.

“We remain a digital-first direct-to-consumer brand and are excited to begin adding more physical stores to our mix in the right markets” said Buckley.

True Religion in Atlanta.
True Religion in Atlanta.

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