Catching Up: Duck Head’s Bill Thomas

 

It’s been a little over a year since Duck Head relaunched.  More specifically, a relaunch of a relaunch.  It’s fair to say that they finally hit the nail on the head, and are starting to making their mark on the #menswear scene again.  Personally, I’m really happy about it, and I believe that most of you are.  Duck Head is a personal issue for a lot of us, judging by the passion in the comments in multiple blog posts.  Red Clay Soul was founded with an old pair of Duck Heads as part of the inspiration.  The big labels are still a point of discussion, and I think the idea of selling these pants at $40 a piece has finally passed.  The bottom line is this: Duck Head makes a great pair of chinos at a good price point.

I’ve gotten to know Bill Thomas over the past couple years, and have really enjoyed our conversations about the brand, which has recharged my passion for the pants.  I have a pair of the Gold School chinos which I wear quite a bit, and I have a pair of the Gold Glory chinos, which are the USA made pants that I would call a ‘heritage’ nod to the old WWII officer’s pants.

I reached out to Bill about doing a check-in post, and he was all about it.  Safe to say that things are on the up and up:

How would you describe your Duck Head journey over the last year?

It took some time to figure out our formula and lock in on our direction. In Spring of 2018, we were at a crawl. By Fall, we started to experience traction, so we’re at a brisk walk right now. By year end, we should be off and running. Reestablishing the better specialty retail channels where Duck Head was sold during its hay day is our priority. Rebuilding confidence with these trading partners is a process and we are making measurable progress in this regard.

Stacks…

It seems that this launch of Duck Head has finally hit the mark. How many stores are you in these days?

The number of stores is growing weekly. About 50 right now. We would like to add another 50 by summer, but we are being selective in this effort.

A little buzz in Garden & Gun

Some previous launches weren’t as successful…what made this one work?

The right product at the right price. The most challenging aspect of relaunching Duck Head has been how to reinterpret the brand today. In plain terms, identifying what made Duck Head work when it was working and figuring out how to execute that today. It was a conscious decision to re-introduce the brand within the context of how people remember it… quality chinos at a good value. “Value” is relative term. Quality is not. The bar on quality has risen significantly over the past 25 years. Electing to meet that standard comes at a cost. $89.50 is on the high end for some, but it’s an opening price point through the specialty markets we are targeting. We respect those who have expressed desire for something that costs less. The customer is always right.

Bill and The Colonel.  Two good people…

It seems that the pendulum is swinging back to a more traditional style. How do you see Duck Head fitting into that equation?

Some call it traditional, others classic. We call it timeless. Today’s expression of Duck Head is with the deepest respect to the brand’s prolific 154 year history. You would be amazed how many times the logo has been “updated” over the years. We leaned heavily on the 1990 Duck Head. Retailers have been surprised that Duck Head is selling to both their younger customers who are new to the brand, and their older customers who wore it back when they were in college. It’s fun to find a product that fathers and sons can agree on!

Deciding on labels…

 

What do we have to look forward to this Spring?

Spring 2019 brings two significant new product introductions: 1) The “Gold School” Chino Short! The fabric, style and make is all the same as our chino. No corners cut. We paneled specialty retailers to set our inseam at 9”. A shorter inseam is in the works. 2) In March, we will debut our 1865-Pocket Chino. It’s cut from a year-round weight 7.1 oz pebbled canvas. A heavier 9.5 oz. field weight canvas will follow for Fall. The addition of the 5-Pocket model contemporizes Duck Head and completes our assortment. We are extremely excited about this line up!

There you have it.  What say you?  Have you gotten back on board with Duck Head?

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  • Ryan02/11/2019 - 9:11 AM

    I haven’t, and I won’t. The value proposition of these in 90’s was they were inexpensive and they held up to a beating. All well in good that they want to attempt to head up market, but i won’t be spending $100 for a pair of Duck Heads. They completely missed the mark. Best of luck to them resonating with new consumers that don’t remember the originals. I think they’ll struggle to recapture nostalgic customers at their price point. ReplyCancel

    • RSS02/11/2019 - 10:12 AM

      Agree with this.  ReplyCancel

  • GWM02/11/2019 - 10:38 AM

    Including “stretch” material in both the $90 and $118 models demonstrates the cheapness of the brand today. Adding this polyester is simply a cost cutting method under the marketing guise of “comfort” or “performance”. Duck Head had the opportunity to fill a market void for a high-quality / high-value pair of pants but instead chose the opposite.ReplyCancel

    • RA02/11/2019 - 2:23 PM

      Wore them mid 80’s and might have agreed with you…until I ordered a pair of the new $90 model. They’re top-notch. The stitching, the high-end button/ zipper, everything is higher quality than those 80’s pants, which i still had in my college box until very recently. If you still want the 100% premium cotton model, they have that one, too. The younger set likes a slightly different fit; instead of fighting it, I tried it. I’ve worn them every other day for almost two months now. Constant washings, no color change. I’m sold.ReplyCancel

  • DH02/11/2019 - 10:59 AM

    My problem has never been with the cost, it’s with the size of the tag and the placement. I find it astounding that people still cling to price point from 30 years ago, especially considering they’re the same ones who likely spend hundreds on a duffel bag and multiple thousands on a watch. $40 in 1990 is ~$77 today, not that far off the current price. ReplyCancel

    • Ryan02/11/2019 - 12:04 PM

      I don’t think readers here take issue with spending $100 on a pair of pants. They take issue with spending $100 on a pair of DUCK HEAD pants. A brand you could buy at Belk. Very difficult to go up market with a brand positioned where it was historically.ReplyCancel

      • RA02/11/2019 - 2:27 PM

        I bought the originals (great). I bought the Belk pants (cheap stuff after brand was sold first time; you’re right, they disintegrated within a year). I have the new ones. These aren’t the Belk pants at all.ReplyCancel

        • Ryan02/12/2019 - 9:16 AM

          Enjoy them. I’ll spend my money elsewhere. ReplyCancel

  • M02/11/2019 - 11:12 AM

    Not sure why the brand needs 2-3 tiers of pants. Green Pants, Gold Pants who gives a shit.    ReplyCancel

  • Hank02/11/2019 - 11:22 AM

    What was the material of duck head back in the early eighty’s?ReplyCancel

    • TP02/11/2019 - 12:40 PM

      100% cotton duck cloth that was pretty heavy. Late 80’s it became much thinner and weaker. Remember the original brand was made for tough inexpensive work wear that could take a beating. ReplyCancel

  • klp02/11/2019 - 12:17 PM

    I have a pair of the Gold Glory chinos and I think they are excellent.  Not too slim or too baggy. The details are executed well.  If you used to buy Bills Khakis, you should try these.  These are all cotton( no stretch thank you) and will last a lot longer than my 1980s duck heads did.  ReplyCancel

  • TP02/11/2019 - 12:37 PM

    Neat article but any kind of quality textile good at cheap price point made in in USA, well that shipped sailed a long time ago, I wore duckhead pants in late 70’s and throughout the 80’s. Used to get them for $5 to $10 bucks at Hammer’s in Guntersville Alabama, which was the original factory seconds and oversupply store way before Boaz discount outlet showed up. They were work pants that were made trendy and the trendier they got the cheaper they were made. Btw there is another Dux making a comeback as well. Duxbak, they had some great quality sporting items as well, https://www.duxbak.com/ReplyCancel

  • SFM02/12/2019 - 5:18 PM

    Got a pair of the Gold Schools and couldn’t have better things to say about them.  I will grant this isn’t what Duckheads were back in the day, but I think that’s because the times are different.  With the expectation of trimmer cuts i welcome the introduction of stretch.   They don’t look like stretch which i enjoy, and still have something resembling a traditional line.   I would love if someone did come up with a $50.00 khaki that may not be as nicely cut, but the notion of them becoming generational items is probably passed.  ReplyCancel

  • JB02/16/2019 - 9:47 PM

    Notion that stretch makes them cheaper is simply wrong.  It actually costs more to add stretch, and it is done with elastane, not polyester (poly is sometimes used in blue denim to improve recovery).  Also, saying they’re sold in Belk is unfair at best; they have not been sold in Belk for quite a long time.  ReplyCancel

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