Seeking a new fit at Bluer Denim

After success with high-end jeans, entrepreneur targets young consumers

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

Jeff Shafer has spent almost two dozen years as a clothing industry entrepreneur, and his Ridgefield-based Agave Denim is a nationally recognized brand for high-end jeans and other denim apparel.

Now Shafer is focusing his entrepreneurial skills on a new brand of jeans and denim products, called Bluer Denim. Separate from Agave, the new company being launched this month is built on direct sales to young consumers to appeal to their social awareness.

The online retailer hopes to address the challenge of allowing customers to touch and try on clothing with a new concept -- free delivery of up to three clothing items, which can be returned with no shipping cost within seven days.

Shafer is aiming his product line, which will offer 15 products each for men and women, at 18-to-24 years olds who value quality and appreciate a Made-in-USA label. In addition, he wants to tap into what he sees as a high level of social consciousness by paying $5 to buy back one pair of usable used jeans for each new pair purchased. Those jeans will be cleaned and donated to organizations for reuse by those in need.

At $95 to $145 a pair, Bluer's jeans will be less expensive than Agave's high-end products that appeal to an older, more affluent demographic, but more costly than many name-brand jeans sold at most department stores. But the online-only sales strategy will keep prices far lower than they'd be if they were sold through conventional retail channels, Shafer said. And, he argues, the quality is far higher than that of mass-produced, imported brands.

Resonant message

Brooke Burgner, a broker specializing in retail leasing for NAI Norris Beggs & Simpson in Vancouver, said many elements of Shafer's strategy should resonate with a young student-age population. Allowing customers to return clothes at no charge should reassure consumers that the company has confidence in its products, she said. Shafer's idea of touring college campuses to promote the clothing line also makes sense, said Burgner, a recent college graduate. And the company's price point for jeans is comparable and perhaps even lower than prices for jeans in specialty stores, she said.

"If it's a great product that will last, look good and feel good, it is worth the price," she said.

Shafer hopes the company will earn $1 million in revenue in one year. That compares to $10 million in annual sales for Agave Denim, a revenue that has remained flat in a stalled premium jeans market.

Shaver moved Agave from Southern California to Ridgefield in 2008. Agave's raw materials and products are almost exclusively made in the U.S. from American raw materials, but Shafer says the higher materials and production costs have been a major challenge.

"Material costs are up, retailers want higher margins, and consumers want lower prices," he said.

Shafer said direct sales to customers offers a way to rein in prices. Bluer's risk-free return policy should eliminate any concerns about choosing a bad fit. And, online sales make his products more price-competitive.

In addition, he hopes the American-made label and used jeans purchase program appeal to what he sees as a higher social consciousness of younger people.

Shafer put out word that he was launching Bluer with a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. The campaign raised $45,000 from about 360 people and drew attention to the new product lines from a dozen media outlets. Given its public relations value, the Kickstarter campaign "was a home run by any standard," he said.

Bluer will launch a test site no later than Monday, with a fully operational site following within 10 days, Shafer said.