Silver Jeans’ New CEO Suzanne Silverstein Works to Modernize Denim Brand’s Image and Diversify Offerings

For the 103-year-old Western Glove Works, operator of Silver Jeans, it’s time to get its denim story out in a telling way.

“That’s been the missing link,” said Suzanne Silverstein, chief executive officer of Silver Jeans and its sister brand Jag, who has been leading rebranding efforts and digital and merchandise changes since starting on the job last July.

More from WWD

“There’s this great story we haven’t been telling. How do we package this up and connect with the customer on a deeper level? That was my vision when I came on board. That’s what I felt the opportunity was for this business.”

Silverstein, a veteran of fashion and retail firms, succeeded former CEO Michael Silver, who continues on the board. His brother Bob is president and chairman of the board. Their grandfather and great-uncles started Western Glove Works in 1921.

“Michael was ready to take a step back and let somebody else run the day-to-day [operations],” Silverstein said. She’s the first non-Silver family member to run the Winnipeg, Canada-based Western Glove Works, considered the oldest privately owned denim manufacturer in North America. With a volume ranging from $120 million to $140 million depending on the year, it’s a relatively small company in a very competitive space.

“There’s not a lot of brand awareness, particularly in the U.S.,” Silverstein acknowledged. “But the business is the size it is because customers who buy the jeans love them. They’re very, very loyal. We have a nice plus-size business. We offer multiple inseams. We have fits for curvy girls. We have jeans for really tall women and really tall guys. We cover the spectrum. Inclusivity is part of our business model.”

Suzanne Silverstein
Suzanne Silverstein

Since Silverstein joined Western Glove Works, much has happened. The Thinkingbox brand agency was hired. The website and social media were relaunched. “We’re really starting to ramp up on Instagram, and we just launched on TikTok. We had not been playing on TikTok at all,” Silverstein said. Ads have turned cheeky, with tag lines like “After 100 years, we still got your butt,” or “Great nights start in Silvers. How they end is up to you.”

The website sports a bolder, colorful font, and a “richer” portal on the company’s history, Silverstein said. “We will be building out more product stories and more design stories. You will see a greater editorial feeling. There is storytelling here.” On social media, “We’re moving from only just posting campaign images to content that captures stories.” She described marketing themes centered on encouraging individuals “to step out of their comfort zone, to be expressive and daring.”

Inventories, she said, have been brought in line, with some editing of fits and inseams while keeping the size range inclusive and sku count constant through the addition of new washes. “When I came in, inventory was way too high. I made a change in leadership over that area. Now we’re in a very healthy place and tracking to be basically on our inventory budget by the end of our fiscal year.”

A Luxe Stretch women’s line, under the Silver Jeans label, is being rolled out, in eight regular sizes and eight plus sizes. Silverstein said 125,000 units were booked for spring, and that the franchise will continue through the summer and fall. By the end of 2024, more than 200,000 units will be rolled out. She described the new denim as soft and “super” stretchy though with the appearance of more rigid denim.

Last month, the company launched its first non-licensed, non-denim line, “Essential Twill,” which is for men.

From Silver Jeans “Essential Twill” line.
From Silver Jeans “Essential Twill” line.

For holiday 2024, a new men’s denim style that Silverstein touted as “the perfect desk-to-dinner jean in a dark inky blue, with cleaned back pockets and tonal stitching,” will be introduced. The look, she said, is polished and suitable for the office and then an evening out.

Silver Jeans has a signature S back pocket stitching that’s either embellished or cleaned up. “We are working toward building a greater offer of clean pockets, without giving up any of our embellished pocket business. We can reach an additional customer, someone who appreciates our fit, fabric and quality, but prefers a more subtle pocket,” Silverstein said.

For the long term, a five-year plan is in the works, expected to be finished by June, Silverstein said. The company will be profitable this year, though less so with increased marketing expenditures, she said.

She credits the company’s longevity to the quality of the product, its inherent value and the tenure of many of its employees. “We have employees who have been with this company for 10, 15, 20 years, up to 37 years, which is very, very rare, particularly in fashion.”

Upon joining the company last July, “I very quickly realized that there is a lot in this product that is not charged to the customer. I would put our jeans head-to-head with any premium denim brand that charges $200 or $300 per ticket, in fit, construction, fabric and wash. Our sweet spot for jeans is between $74 and $94, and for denim shorts starting at $48. It’s very accessible to many Americans and Canadians. It’s been 103 years of producing dungarees and denim. We’re really, really good at this.”

Initially, Western Glove Works produced workwear under the Handy Andy Overalls and Treatem Ruff labels. After World War II, the gloves were phased out, and apparel and denim became the focus. By the ’90s, the company evolved into producing private label for several of the industry’s biggest names in denim including Calvin Klein, Gap, Wrangler and Anna Sui. The private label business was eventually phased out and in 1991, Michael Silver launched Silver Jeans. Jag was purchased in 2013.

The Jag brand represents about one-tenth of the company’s volume. Compared to Silver Jeans, it’s geared toward an older demographic, has slightly higher prices, higher rises and stomach-supporting fits. “There is a lot of potential with Jag,” Silverstein said, adding that some of the same branding work for Silver Jeans will be applied to Jag. Sportswear offered by Silver Jeans and Jag represents a “minimal” part of the total business, Silverstein said.

While intending to hang onto its core customer, generally in their mid-30s to mid-50s, “We definitely will be engaged in a younger audience,” Silverstein said. “We need to work on acquiring more of this cohort, the 180 million Millennials and Gen Zers in the U.S. We want them to really feel that our new voice and our new look is fun and aspirational. I want people to smile or even laugh. I also feel we could approach our customer with more authority given that we’ve been doing this for 103 years.…As soon as I came on board, I said to the guys, ‘There is some incredible storytelling we can do.'”

Prior to joining Western Glove Works, Silverstein was group president of NYC Alliance; president for the JS Group, overseeing brands such as Halston, ML Monique Lhuillier and Amur; president of Seven For All Mankind, and vice president and divisional merchandise manager for contemporary sportswear, including premium denim, at Saks Fifth Avenue, among other jobs.

“I come from a branded world, and denim has always been about what brand is most relevant or coolest. I understand the importance of brand. What was so intriguing to me about Silver Jeans and Western Glove was that all these other elements didn’t need to be fixed.” The quality, fit and value were all there, she said, but not the storytelling. “Jeans are not so dissimilar.”

Currently, wide leg, baggy legs and barrel legs styles are very much the look, particularly for Gen Z, Silverstein said. “The skinnies are kind of out. At some point, it’s going to pivot back to a slimmer leg. Typically most of the volume done in denim is straight and slim. But the reason customers are loyal to Silver is because we have jeans that fit the curves. We have jeans for skinny girls too. We have jeans that fit multiple generations and body types. And you know if the denim isn’t stretchy, then it can really be challenging in the fitting room.”

Silver Jeans “Luxe Stretch” offering.
Silver Jeans “Luxe Stretch” offering.

Best of WWD