True Religion: Cultivating Brand Love from the ‘Intersection of Culture, Commerce and Fashion’

True Religion CMO Kristen D’Arcy is looking beyond superficial engagement and is focused on connecting with its community in context.
Photo credit: True Religion

Every brand is fighting to win and keep customer loyalty, and True Religion is no different. The brand could easily take cues from its fashion peers and tap into the growing supply of emerging Y2K-obsessed content creators to drive buzz. However, True Religion CMO Kristen D’Arcy is looking beyond superficial engagement and is instead focused on connecting with its community in context, whether it’s in Las Vegas during the Super Bowl or on a high school basketball court.

“The way that we assess all the opportunities that come in is thinking about how we can do something truly different,” D’Arcy said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “How do we make sure that we can drive brand love that goes beyond something that is very superficial? All the things we have done thus far, and the things we have upcoming, follow suit in that regard.”

D’Arcy shared detailed insights on True Religion’s strategy, which kickstarted with its Spring 2024 Go There campaign starring Grammy-nominated recording artist Saweetie. Additionally, she expands upon the brand’s mission and vision of being at the intersection of culture, commerce and fashion, and how this approach has helped drive brand relevance — and cultivate brand love.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): We’ve been seeing a lot of brands try to embrace the role that commerce plays in culture. As a brand rooted in Y2K nostalgia and one that is very much on a comeback trajectory, what role does culture play for you in marketing?

Kristen D’Arcy: From a True Religion perspective, we try to sit at the intersection of culture, commerce and fashion. This year has been a really good reflection of bringing that strategy to life, as exemplified by our partnership with Saweetie.

The entire Go There campaign was fashioned around consumer insights. People are tired of the same old ad campaigns; they want to be inspired. And now, people are traveling more. We are in a post-COVID environment where everything feels back [to normal]. Go There is a double entendre to not only fulfill those travel fantasies, but also go there with your style and take it to the next level. Saweetie loves True Religion, so we just thought she was the right face to bring this all to life.

We had our press preview for the campaign at the beginning of New York Fashion Week. We had influencers and style icons and celebrities that were a part of that.


RTP: How did you continue to ride the momentum that came with announcing Saweetie as your campaign face and into the Super Bowl?

D’Arcy: We asked ourselves how we could tap into the fashionable and now very influential Super Bowl audience. Those “tunnel walks,” whether it be for the NFL and NBA, are increasingly influential with regard to what the athletes are wearing. Our Super Bowl activations included partnering with the NFL Trust, which is only available if you’re a current or former NFL player. We were the only brand to partner with them at their event Saturday night going into the Super Bowl, so players could come through the True Religion locker room, which featured campaign imagery, products and styling suites, so we could dress them.

At one point we had a line of about 200 people during this event waiting to come into the True Religion locker room, and it was an incredible opportunity to speak with these players, to get their feedback about the product and the brand. Additionally, there was an Instagrammable moment in front of our Hollywood sign that’s a part of our Spring campaign. Overall, from a brand awareness, consideration and relevance perspective, we felt like that was a great place for us to be, and among a very influential audience.

Then the next day, we ‘popped up’ at Resorts World at the Fred Segal shop, where we took over a portion of the store to do a gifting suite and a Game Watch Party. Similarly, we had athletes, hip-hop artists, influencers and even stylists come through, and they all just shared so much excitement for the brand and the product, so they went out of their way to take photos decked out in True Religion at the game and various parties. We really wanted to sit at the intersection of an incredibly important cultural moment. It really meant something for our brand to be there — a part of something that ultimately helps influence and shape culture.

RTP: And you closed out your big month with the NBA All Star Weekend, right?

D’Arcy: Yes, we went right from the Super Bowl to the NBA All Star Weekend, and this was different and very special for us because we partnered with HOOPBUS, which is a 501 c3 nonprofit that aims to bring basketball to different communities across America in a safe and incredible environment. This HOOPBUS was decked out in art from Micah Johnson, featuring the True Religion logo and other brand elements, and it traveled across the state of Indiana to historic basketball courts where different influencers were sporting True Religion.

It stopped in Indianapolis on Friday, where we went to Crispus Attucks High School, which is a very renowned historically Black high school. We donated products to the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams and we had an incredible afternoon with the kids. We then moved into the weekend and sort of culminated this aspect of our partnership on Sunday, where we went to Northwest High School [in Indianapolis] and unveiled a new basketball court, which was painted by Micah Johnson. HOOPBUS helped us stage a basketball game on this new court, including the True Religion team and others.

We covered all of these activations across our social channels and, of course, it’s still on our [social] grid. We got a ton of pickup both from a press perspective as well as influencers that followed our journey throughout these different critical moments, trying to make sure that the brand was authentically connected to culture.

RTP: It seems like True Religion has been able to foster some deep connections in the sports world. Why do you think the brand resonates so much?

D’Arcy: I think it’s a few things. One is we have a very diverse product. When you look at the NBA All Star game, they’re wearing our athleisure or our active sets when they’re playing basketball, but then when our influencers attended events, they were wearing our iconic denim with the thick stitching and our horseshoe. Number two, we know our consumers are inspired by athletes. They listen to rap and hip-hop and are inspired by these musicians. It makes sense to go where their passions lie.

But the one thing that blows my mind about this brand is how much outreach we have received organically from athletes and musicians that said they wanted to be a part of the brand. We had an NFL player come up to us at our press preview for the campaign and said he grew up with the brand and loved it so much that he would do a campaign for free.

RTP: What can you tell us about Team True?

D’Arcy: Now that we have a moment to breathe after these events, we are working on launching Team True. Team True is about bringing together all these people who have been reaching out to us, or perhaps we have worked with them on a smaller scale, who have passion for the brand, and figuring out what we can do with them for the next three to six months.

They’re wearing us across multiple different occasions in their lives, whether that be the tunnel, to walk the red carpet or waking up on a Saturday and hanging out with their family at home. Team True is [our reaction] to people asking how they can do more with us; it’s a very humbling and eye-opening experience for us because we want to create opportunities for these people that absolutely love the brand and the product.

RTP: You’ve mentioned a few times about how you want to partner with people who naturally love the brand. How is the emphasis on authentic connections and established brand loyalty impacting your approach to marketing?

D’Arcy: We are trying to tap into culture, but we’re also trying to take these moments and turn them on their head ever so slightly, to make sure that we are creating deep and meaningful moments and interactions with our brand. It’s definitely a multi-layered approach, because we have people like Saweetie who have the reach, but then we’re diving deep with different partners who really matter to our consumer and influencers on the mid, micro and nano level, who maybe don’t have 20 million followers but have a highly engaged audience and are so influential among that group of followers. We’re trying to kind of unlock different passion points, if you will, through this multi-layered approach, from the mega-influencers all the way down to the nanos, and that’s where you see some of these activations come in.

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