The sweltering summers in China can be insufferable—especially for people who like to wear jeans. Lee Jeans, in its quest to boost its brand differentiation among an expanding market of apparel brands that also use fabric performance as their unique selling point, like Uniqlo and Levi’s, developed denim that’s cooler to wear during hot weather. It found a novel solution in an ancient material: jade. When woven into denim, crushed jade particles maintain the coolest temperature and, alongside other technological enhancements made to the fabric, pull sweat away from the body. The fabric dries quickly, creating a refreshing cooling sensation.
The immense popularity of jade in China makes the denim a natural fit for Lee’s Asian market, and although Lee’s jade-infused fabric was entirely unique, the company needed to differentiate its inventive new product from a rapidly expanding market of high-tech fabric alternatives made specifically for hot weather.
Lee and its parent company, VF Corporation, saw an opportunity to create a new product that helps position the company not just as a premium brand, but one that leads with innovation. Lee came to IDEO to help design the go-to-market and launch strategy for the new line of jade-infused fabric. Looking for insight, designers conducted research in multiple cities in China and India, seeking out those who were committed to wearing jeans despite the most extreme circumstances—the denim-clad bicyclists pedaling through sweltry city streets, the basketball players on the court, commuters who stripped to their underwear while driving and wriggled back into their jeans upon arrival. The common thread: They were all steadfast in their preference for thick, heavy denim, no matter how hot it got.
The resulting strategy for product launch: positioning jade—a traditional material that has strong cultural and spiritual meaning—as a high-tech solution for the contemporary lifestyle of young people. IDEO helped Lee name the new line JadeFusion and created a system of messaging to communicate that these aren’t just jeans—they’re jeans with a fascinating narrative woven within; a hierarchy of messaging that blends jade’s exotic premium significance with a very modern technical story. Lee salespeople learned how to share the story with customers, encouraging them to talk about jade-cooling technology at work, on the streets, and even on the basketball court.
The JadeFusion line sold out within seven weeks of its debut. The launch, which was originally limited to mainland China and Hong Kong, was expanded to India, Malaysia, and Thailand, and sales orders doubled for the following year. Along the way, Lee developed a new understanding of how to incorporate customers’ input and be open to discovery and inspiration from the very start of planning a product launch.