Getting creative in a pandemic: Vancouver clothing line Duer moves to a new business model

The performance denim company was forced to switch things up.

Credit: Courtesy of Duer

The performance denim company was forced to switch things up

I should say up front that I own a pair of Duer merchandise. Did they perfectly solve my need to have pants I could bike to fancy events in and not look ridiculous? Yes, yes, they did. 

OK, fine, maybe I shouldn’t be biking to fancy events. But hey, the “performance denim” the folks at Vancouver-based Duer develop is very versatile. And it turns out the company is, too.

Founded in 2013, Duer opened its first Canadian retail location in Gastown three years later, followed by a second (in Toronto) in 2019. This year was set to see dedicated storefronts in Los Angeles, Denver, New York and Seattle, along with an expanded women’s product offering.

Of course, COVID-19 put a stop to those plans, and then some. In mid-March, when the pandemic started becoming a reality for all Canadians, Duer lost 75 percent of its revenue in less than a week as retail and wholesale business ground to a halt.

But it didn’t take long for the company to adapt to the current climate. Duer came up with a new approach, focused around presales, to steady itself and stop the bleeding.

“The traditional model of making the product first and then creating demand was not very efficient in the best of times, as it meant tons of speculative inventory and expensive marketing campaigns to try and get the consumer to purchase the inventory you have already made,” says co-founder and president Gary Lenett. “Now, when we all need to do more with less, the traditional model is at best cumbersome and at worst wasteful.”

Credit: Courtesy of Duer

Duer co-founder and president Gary Lenett has overseen some pretty substantial pivots in the wake of COVID-19

Lenett and crew quickly adopted a presale method—similar to crowdsourcing—to line up supply with demand. They create prototypes of new products and showcase them on Duer’s website as a presell. If a certain number of people show interest in a product, the company will put it into production with a delivery time frame of four to 12 weeks.

This approach allows Duer to avoid waste and costly marketing efforts, and also results in a price tag that’s 20 to 30 percent smaller.

Lenett sees it as something of a long-term solution. “This is how the clothing industry is going to reinvent itself to align with the current reality,” he says. “We will no longer try to create demand through large marketing budgets and inventories, but rather gauge consumer demand and then supply to meet the exact desires of the customer.”

The company has also taken some other steps, like moving its community engagement completely online and having fitness instructors run classes on different topics via Duer’s Instagram account.

There’s also been a necessary pivot away from its previous marketing strategy, which relied heavily on messages about going outdoors and testing the elements.

“We’ve put adventures on pause and tuned into our core message that is baked into bigger visual product stories: full-time comfort,” Lenett says. “Our messaging now explores how comfort facilitates lounging now and adventure later.”

Here’s to that latter point. And hoping it comes back sooner than later.