Brand Strategy Fashion Marketing

Dickies brand boss shares how he juggles workwear and lifestyle audiences


By Hannah Bowler, Senior Reporter

February 15, 2024 | 9 min read

The iconic American workwear and apparel brand has released its latest campaign, a homage to Mexican American lowrider car culture. We catch up with global brand director Kyle Martin to find out more about how Dickies balances two distinct audiences.

Men from the Lowride community sitting at a dinner table

Dickies campaign pays homage to the Lowride community / Dickies

While Dickies has a 100-year history of making durable workwear for the American market, it also has a huge streetwear following, especially in the international market, where it is only known for its lifestyle apparel.

A year ago, the business kickstarted a major project to “rebuild” the brand positioning to reconnect with its core workwear customer. It’s the job of global brand management director Kyle Martin to ensure its marketing strategy does just that.

“The biggest hurdle that we approach as a brand is segmenting our time, efforts, budgets, resources, all of those different pieces, as well as developing a marketing strategy that adequately speaks to both sides of the house,” he says.

While both customers are “extremely” important to Dickies, Martin says the top-down business strategy is to prioritize workwear. “The bottom line is that our roots are always going to be workwear. We built our legacy on durable, reliable, quality apparel for the working community. It’s for providers, skilled tradespeople, enthusiasts and artists.”

It’s a similar story to Carhartt, which also produces apparel for tradespeople but now gets substantial revenue from lifestyle. Its chief brand officer, Susan Hennike, previously told The Drum that it doesn’t put marketing budget behind its lifestyle segment.

Dickies’ topline marketing strategy is to establish a connection with its core customer base and the key communities that have supported the brand throughout its history. “We ultimately have a duty to shine a light on the spirit of these individuals that have helped build the brand,” says Martin.

Martin is behind Dickies new brand platform, ‘Respect the Classics,’ which debuted on February 6. The documentary-style campaign pays homage to the lowrider community, which is part of Mexican American car culture. Lowriders were one of the earliest communities to adopt Dickies, back in the 1940s.

“The idea was around creating a campaign that was rooted in artistry, craftsmanship and the work of our core customer,” he says. The attributes of Dickies products are present throughout, which, Martin explains, “strategically emphasizes iconic work core products, while also representing the brand’s foundation for over a century.”

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Automotive is just one of the audiences that Dickies pursues in its marketing. Martin says that since Dickies can’t speak to every community all year round, it markets in “cycles.” For example, one season will be dedicated to automotive, the next to construction, then farm and ranch. “You’ll see us always cycling through and shining a light on these different communities at any given time.”

Currently, Dickies is finding “a ton of success and growth” through its owned and organic channels. “They continue to be the main drivers of incremental growth as well as giving us the ability to do some brand storytelling pieces without putting a ton of media dollars behind it.” Instagram and TikTok are the two platforms it is finding the most success with, along with YouTube for long-form content.

@dickies Jeans that keep up. Durable work jeans built to Flex with you and last through your toughest shifts. #DickiesWorkwear #truestory #fall #autumn #fallfashion ♬ original sound - Dickies

“The approach is to reach out to Dickies ambassador network, people who have authentically supported the brand over the years, to find individuals with a story to tell. That is how we’ve sourced all of our campaign shoots so far.” Once the team has located those people, it then uses a documentary-style approach to “showcase their life and the way that they go about making their living,” weaving in Dickies’ brand narrative.

The marketing department has spent time “scrutinizing and optimizing” its affiliate channels and Martin says his team has run a series of tests on its influencer placements during key commercial periods to “assess the true drivers behind performance.” Although guarded about the learnings from the tests, Martin says this work has led it to tweak its affiliate strategy.

Partnerships are another key part of Dickies marketing, such as the recent tie-up with Ford and the American actor Sydney Sweeny. “That garnered a ton of viewership, reached new audiences and brought new customers to the brand.” Most importantly, he says, it was “just incredibly authentic“ to the communities that Dickies serves. “It is deeply intertwined with automotive culture and Sydney was so passionate about that and it was such a big part of her life.”

Overhauling Dickies’ brand guidelines for the first time in six years has played a major role in “uplifting” its tone of voice, he adds. “As we tried to create global consistency and get some synergy across these regions, it required a set of globally aligned tools.

“Developing these brand guidelines was a huge step forward for us in terms of getting all of our different regions together on the same page with the way that we put marketing out into the world.”

There are some challenging times ahead for Dickies, with its revenue having dropped 16% in 2023, according to parent group VF’s end-of-year statement. Despite the slump, VF’s president and chief executive officer, Bracken Darrell, said: “The underlying business continues to be good, and the APAC market continued its reset.”

Martin declined to comment on the revenue decline but did say: “With regards to marketing, our strategy has not shifted at all. You’ll see a nicely balanced approach in performance marketing efforts, which will be looking to not only deliver that brand storytelling component but to help deliver revenue while also balancing the growth of our organic and home channels.”

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