As one of the biggest jeans brands in the world, Lee has dominated the fashion landscape with their superior denim products for over one hundred years. Read on for the complete history of the brand.
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Looking for a little more information on one of the world's biggest denim brands? Lee have dominated the marked since the 1800s, yet have managed to maintain their relevance with current designers and contemporary styles for the modern day. With an impressive range of products under their belt, it's no longer restricted itself to strictly denim; producing t-shirts, jackets, formal shirts, and accessories.
Read on for the complete history of Lee.
The History of Lee
1889 - 1920
A little over a century ago, Henry David Lee founded the H.D. Lee Mercantile company with the premise of making and selling superior wares. Noticing how difficult it was to get suitable workwear for his labourers, he decided to start producing his own clothing as opposed to sourcing from the, then inferior, eastern craftsmanship.
With his well-crafted, work suited denim far exceeding the quality of the eastern counterparts, Lee quickly ascended to one of the most sought after workwear brands in the US. By 1911, the company had started producing high-quality overalls to compliment their already popular jeans collection. Starting with the 'Bib overall', it was originally made 8oz denim and had multi-function breast pocket and a button fly.
In 1913, the one piece 'Union-Alls' were debuted. Having noticed how difficult it was for a chauffeur to repair a car while remaining clean, H.D Lee developed an overall that'll completely protect the wearer's clothing underneath. They did this by stitching together dungarees with one of their denim jackets which were then released for public sale to roaring success.
1920 - 1950
Getting a little creative with their advertisement, Lee invented 'Buddy Lee' as a mascot for the brand. They debuted the character dressed in overalls and placed him in the window of 'Dayton Company Department Store' in Minnesota, US. The caricature quickly became a national success that now fetch quite the pretty penny in collectors circles.
By the time the 20s were in full swing, Lee were producing cowboy pants; initially, with u-shape saddle crotch and button fly, they later adapted this to include zipper technology - the first of their kind. Both the public and 'cowboys' alike clamoured for the new collection - this only furthered Lee's authority as a workwear staple. In a further nod to this, Lee added the 'hair-on-hide' cowhide leather label to the back of jeans.
By 1944, Lee had rebranded all of their cowboy garments under the 'Lee Rider' label. Following this, they introduced Lady Lee Riders to market in 1949 and marketed them as the 'best fitting jeans' for women.
1950 - 1980
In 1954, James Dean was spotted wearing Lee jeans in both 'Giant' and 'Rebel Without a Cause'. Seen as the birth of the rebellious biker cults across the country, it was a pivotal transition for Lee into pop culture from their workwear roots. This sparked the creation of 'Comfort Clothes for Work and Play' as Lee began to produce their 'Leesures' range.
In the late 60s, 1969 to be precise, Lee merged with the VF Company allowing them to upgrade and increase their manufacturing power. This also allowed them to further expand their influence overseas.
1980 - Present
As the 80s rolled in, Lee's focus shifted from workwear to creating more fashion forward styles such as stone washed or acid washed jeans. Over the next decade, Lee continued to move it's brand positioning from that of a workwear brand to fashion.
By 1995, Lee (along with many other American brands) began to shift their production to China. This resulted in substantial growth in Australia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. By 2012, Lee had opened their first flagship store in Hong Kong - only furthering the brand's awareness.
As of 2016, around 127 years after Henry David Lee founded the H.D. Lee Mercantile company, the Lee Denim brand continues to maintain its place as one of the biggest denim labels in the world with global reach that any company would be envious of.
Your Quick Guide to The History of Lee
- A little over a century ago, in 1889, Henry David Lee founded the H.D. Lee Mercantile company.
- In 1913, the one piece 'Union-Alls' debuted.
- In the 1920s, getting a little creative with their advertisement, Lee invented 'Buddy Lee' as a mascot for the brand.
- By 1944, Lee had rebranded all of their cowboy garments under the 'Lee Rider' label.
- As the 80s rolled in, Lee's focus shifted from workwear to creating more fashion forward styles.
That's your lot! As one of the biggest jeans manufacturers in the world, Lee have been instrumental in the direction of the denim industry for well over one hundred years. From their workwear roots to the modern day fashion forward styles - it's a brand steeped in rich history that continues to remain contemporary and relevant to this day. Follow the link below to shop their collection!