True Religion’s Playbook Leans Into Sports, Music

True Religion is increasing its ties to sports and music, as the sportswear and denim brand works to widen its audience and build revenues.

Grammy-winning rapper Saweetie is the face of True Religion’s spring 2024 campaign, themed “Go There,” which launches Thursday. Saweetie has partnered and collaborated with Calvin Klein, Crocs, MAC Cosmetics, Pretty Little Thing and other brands.

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True Religion, known for its heavily embroidered jeans, signature stitching and emblem of a smiling Buddha strumming a guitar, is also partnering with former Major League Baseball player-turned-artist Micah Johnson during Black History Month, and with the NFL Players Trust in conjunction with the Super Bowl. True Religion will be unveiling Super Bowl T-shirts, and for any football fan following the Los Angeles Rams this season, you might have noticed the cheerleaders on the field at halftime, decked out in True Religion.

“The marketing strategy is to really continue to sit between music and sports,” said Kristen D’Arcy, True Religion’s chief marketing officer. “We know from our customer research that consumers are inspired by celebrities, which translates into sports as well as music,” said D’Arcy.

“It’s been interesting to see these different ‘tunnel moments’ with sports stars determining what’s cool and what brands are hot with men’s fashion. So we did a couple of different partnerships late last year and the beginning of this year by seating product for tunnel moments, for the NBA and for the NFL. Those players are really front and center, and influential for their style. It’s so similar to women walking down the runway for the New York or Paris fashion weeks.”

In years past, True Religion has partnered with professional basketball great Russell Westbrook, tied in with the NBA draft, and included several rappers and singers, Chief Keef, Dreezy, and 2 Chainz among them.

Last July, D’Arcy, formerly with brands such as Pacific Sun, Ralph Lauren, American Eagle Outfitters, Coty and Oscar de la Renta, joined True Religion, becoming the brand’s first-ever chief marketing officer. She is responsible for driving new customers to the True Religion brand and all aspects of marketing — content creation, creative, brand, public relations, influencers, social media, partnerships and philanthropy.

In the following Q&A, D’Arcy elaborates on True Religion’s marketing agenda, what’s coming up, and why it took awhile to recruit a chief marketing officer.

Kristin D’Arcy
Kristin D’Arcy

WWD: Is it strange that for so long True Religion operated without a CMO?

Kristin D’Arcy: We’ve been around for 21 years, and over those years have gone through massive change, at one point being bankrupt, to $260 million in sales in 2022, and now we expect to reach close to $500 million in revenue by 2027. The point is, this brand has undergone a tremendous amount of change. So I don’t know if it’s strange or not. I’m just happy to be here.

WWD: What finally prompted the need for a CMO?

K.D.: Michael wanted to drive massive brand awareness, which ultimately will result in new customer acquisition, driving up lifetime value of those really, really loyal customers, and ultimately moving the brand forward with regard to sales growth. (Michael Buckley is the chief executive officer of True Religion.)

True Religion’s ad for its Super Bowl T-shirt.
True Religion’s ad for its Super Bowl T-shirt.

WWD: What is on the Super Bowl agenda for True Religion?

K.D.: On Saturday night in Las Vegas, in partnership with the NFL Players Trust, we’re creating a True Religion locker room, our nod to football, and unveiling our Super Bowl men’s T-shirt, which will be on our website and available in two colors, along with imagery from the spring campaign. We will be among a very influential crowd of current and former NFL players.

Secondly, we’re partnering with former MLB player turned artist Micah Johnson throughout Black History Month, when he will be sharing what inspires him as a Black artist and why he decided to pivot from baseball to art. Micah is known for his mesmerizing charcoal portraits and his Aku character, which has appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. We’re also working with him on a content series throughout February. At the end of the month, he’ll create four unique True Religion pieces featuring his art, and we’ll give those away through a social media contest.

WWD: What’s after that?

K.D.: Our plans with Micah dovetail with basketball, too. During the week of the NBA All-Star Game (Feb. 18) in Indianapolis, we’re partnering with Hoopbus, a philanthropic organization dedicated to bringing basketball into communities by increasing attendance, awareness and engagement at events. The nonprofit, which has a fleet of actual buses that travel across the country to spread the love of basketball, is working very closely with Micah as well.

We’ll be going to Indianapolis with a Hoopbus decked out in Micah’s art. We’ve seen some renderings, and True Religion will be woven into that incredible art. The bus will go all across the state of Indiana, stopping at two historic basketball courts, including the one at Crispus Attucks High School, named after one of the first people killed during the Boston Tea Party. The school was among the first segregated schools in Indiana and was the first all-Black school to win a state championship. True Religion will be giving a donation to the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams at Crispus Attucks. In addition, True Religion will help redo the basketball court at Indianapolis’s Northwest High School, which will feature Micah’s art and True Religion branding.

WWD: What is the plan with Saweetie?

K.D.: Saweetie fronts our spring 2024 campaign, “Go There,” which evokes the idea of adventure and travel and serves as a call to our customers to take their style to a more extreme, rebellious and unexpected level. She’s wearing True Religion’s resurgent women’s collection in a variety of exotic sets as the star of her own fantasy travel movie. We very much believe that style is not just about what you wear — it’s a destination where confidence meets individuality. Saweetie is the very embodiment of this main character energy, which comes across through every campaign asset for spring.

WWD: What about later in the spring season?

K.D.: We’re launching what we’re calling “Team True,” which will feature partnerships, not only with musicians and athletes, but also with people that are influential in terms of style, culture and art. So, it adds depth and layers to our influencer program. It also answers an ask that I’ve been getting almost since Day One from different partners, which is, “How do we work with you longer? We don’t want it to be a one and done.”

This is our solution to keep people a part of the squad longer. We will chronicle them as they get ready for different events, tunnels, awards or just in their daily life. That’s where you’ll see even more diversity outside of just music and sports.

WWD: Do you feel you bring a new vision to True Religion in terms of its marketing?

K.D.: It’s a matter of going deeper with fewer partners. The newness is that we are creating 360 degree campaigns, building upon much of what we have done in the past.

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