As the maker of Levi's jeans has lost shelf space at hundreds of shuttered Sears stores, it's been searching for other places to sell its 505s and 511s.
One of its latest finds is Target.
The Minneapolis-based retailer, which has for years sold a lower-priced Levi's line called Denizen, said Thursday that it will start carrying the brand's core line, or its "Red Tab" label, in 50 stores later this month. The stores slated to get the merchandise will be mostly those near college campuses as well as in busy urban areas.
The Levi's products, which includes men's and women's jeans, tops and jackets, will also be sold on Target.com. Prices will range from $17.99 to $59.99.
The partnership is another sign of a rapidly changing retail landscape in which Target has been looking to pick up sales as some of its competitors struggle, as it's done with toys after Toys 'R' Us stores closed.
"Traditionally, Levi's would have turned its nose up at putting its main brands into what they considered a big box," said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. "They've always seen department stores as a more premium channel."
But with department stores such as J.C. Penney and Sears struggling, he said that viewpoint is changing, with Target regarded as more of a fashion destination, especially among younger shoppers. And, he added, Target is still growing in terms of sales and stores while others are shrinking.
"I don't think Levi's would be happy to go into a Walmart with their main brands," Saunders said. "But Target in a way is the new department store."
For Target, landing Levi's core line adds fashion credibility, he added. But it's also a brand you can find in lots of places. So Target, which is more focused on highlighting its in-house and exclusive products, is likely being selective in where it is placing it.
When Target first began carrying Denizen, the lower-priced Levi's line, several years ago, it had an exclusivity agreement to sell them. But these days, the label can be found at other retailers. Meanwhile, Walmart sells Signature by Levi Strauss, another value brand.
Last year, Target launched a new private-label denim line, Universal Thread, to replace Mossimo. It's one of dozens of new in-house brands that Target has rolled out in recent years to refresh and update its assortment.
In its announcement, Target noted that Levi's is the most searched brand on Target.com for jeans. Target also sells men's Wrangler jeans online.
While Levi Strauss & Co.'s overall sales were up last quarter, last month it disclosed that its U.S. wholesale business dropped 2%. U.S. wholesale makes up about a third of the company's entire business,
"U.S. wholesale has been a challenging dynamic for now a couple of years," Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh told analysts. "It's a little bit of a melting iceberg. But the reality of bankruptcies that have happened over the last couple of months and the acceleration of door closures associated with that, and other customers trying to pare back their store footprint, has become more and more of an impact here of late."
In addition to Target, Levi's has been trying to offset some of that loss by exploring other avenues for distribution. It's expanded its premium business with Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom. It has also been testing in-store shops in six Macy's locations.
Target first began carrying men's Levi's Red Tab line in about 20 stores this spring as a test, including at its stores in Eagan and in northeast Minneapolis. Based on its success, the retailer decided to bring it to more stores. The assortment, which was expanded to also include women's apparel, will be available in the 50 select stores and at Target.com starting Sunday.
The company's Nicollet Mall store next to its downtown Minneapolis headquarters will have it in October.
"This partnership is a great example of how Target continues to offer a curated assortment of highly relevant and premier national brands like Levi's, while also differentiating ourselves by offering only-at-Target brands that we create just for our guests," Mark Tritton, Target's chief merchandising officer, said in a statement.