GREENSBORO — In a move that many analysts predicted, VF Corp. announced Monday it will spin off its jeans business from its more successful activewear brands, which will stay with VF and move to Denver. That’s because, in part, consumers aren’t buying as many jeans as they once did.
The Lee jeans brand will move from Kansas City to be combined with Wrangler in Greensboro to form a new company, which VF has temporarily dubbed NewCo. That company will be a major worldwide player in the jeans industry with 23,000 global employees.
And that’s good news for Greensboro, whose local leaders have played up the city’s denim heritage in recent years with art installations and the informal name “Jeansboro.”
Still, the loss of the VF name, a Greensboro institution for 20 years, leaves another vacancy in the city’s once large roster of Fortune 500 headquarters.
Over the past 20 years, Greensboro and Guilford County have seen the loss of textile, furniture and tobacco brands such as Burlington Industries, Jefferson-Pilot and Lorillard, as corporate change and international competition have reshaped those industries.
Local leaders are turning to such nontraditional industries as Honda Aircraft Co., with its world headquarters in Greensboro, to replace the city’s historic players.
Now, NewCo can be added to that list.
“The ‘Jeansboro’ brand gets stronger,” proclaimed Brent Christensen, president and chief executive of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. “It’s definitely interwoven into this community and will continue to be.”
VF won’t completely remove its corporate presence from Greensboro. Steve Rendle, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said VF would leave a significant group of executives behind to manage some operations.
Rendle explained that the move to Denver is a way to showcase the outdoor, active nature of VF’s remaining brands — The North Face, JanSport, Smartwool, Altra and Eagle Creek, to name a few — which bring in about $11 billion in annual revenue.
The jeans business, which goes back more than 100 years in Greensboro, remains strong but is facing stiff competition from such apparel as yoga pants and other clothing alternatives.
In a news release, VF said NewCo will be more nimble as a freestanding operation and be able to “extend its geographic footprint with a sharp focus on Asia, building on its established presence in China.”
VF, once known as Vanity Fair, bought Greensboro-based Blue Bell in the 1970s and its iconic Wrangler jeans brand.
The company brought its world headquarters from Pennsylvania to the city in 1998 and currently employs about 70,000 people worldwide.
Rendle told Mayor Nancy Vaughan in an email she shared with the News & Record that the new company will maintain most of its 1,300 jobs in Greensboro and add to that total when the Lee brand relocates from Kansas City.
Vaughan said the city is fortunate that the jeans operation will remain.
“I’m grateful for what VF has done for us and what they’ll continue to do, and we look forward to welcoming Lee,” Vaughan said.
“We’re gaining a headquarters. Yes, it won’t be as large, but there is good news in this announcement for us.”