Fowl: The *New* Duck Head

Duck Head has done it again.

For the second time in recent years, Duck Head has gone through new ownership, and is in the process of having the brand completely diluted (again).  I love the saying ‘history repeats itself’, but it’s hard to believe that re-releasing a brand that has a great, nostalgic history, especially here in the South, can be so far off the mark.  It’s rare that I speak ill of anyone or anything, but the original Duck Head was an inspiration for this Blog, and I can’t sit by idly without speaking up.

The first re-do involved taking Old Navy-level Khakis, printing all the labeling inside, and changing the back tag to white and printed, and charging well over $100 a pair.  I don’t know one person who bought a pair, and they went under in spectacular fashion.  Again.

The newest incarnation is basically doing the same thing.  Oxford Industries is the new owner (joining Tommy Bahama and Southern Tide).  They changed the logo (again), added stretch – which will change the fit after one wash, and are charging $118 a pair.  The waistband is now alterable, which is a good thing, should one decide to take the plunge (once they hit the racks at TJ Maxx).

The new marketing is confusing as well.  I don’t get the motorcycle-themed images while wearing khakis.  Maybe for Belstaff or Rag & Bone, but Duck Head?

You think I’m wrong?  Go check out the comments in the recent paid advertising post on Garden & Gun’s Facebook page (link):

And keep in mind: their target market for selling $118 khakis is Garden & Gun readers.  They have set themselves up for an uphill battle.  The market is saturated with $100 khakis, and Duck Head is already the odd man out, as they are trying to break into a segment against competition where the $100 price tag is warranted.

In terms of making Duck Head successful, it’s seriously not hard.  What made Duck Heads great was NOT the quality.  It was the value.  The idea that you could get a good pair of khakis for $30 or $40 was extremely appealing to everyone from school-aged kids, college kids (especially the Fraternity-set), and the post-grad guys who rarely wore socks.  The pants were looked at as disposable, in that ruining them meant heading back to Belk or Goody’s with a pocket full of coupons and getting another pair or three.

To me, that’s the play.  It’s a quantity sell, not a margin play.  If you can get someone to buy three pairs and make $18 on each, it’s just as good as making $50 on one pair.  A lower price point is also a lower barrier to entry for mass consumers.  You don’t squeeze out college kids and folks that don’t carry an AMEX Platinum card.  Maybe they’ll make a ‘Pledge’ version and go back to the originals for $50 a pair.  Wait…who am I kidding.

I’m very content getting the originals at Goodwill.

To me, Duck Head was a culture.  The big yellow tag was a nod to a lifestyle that wasn’t about excess or luxury.  It was about a simple pair of inexpensive khakis that started as your ‘good pants’ for church, work, and dates, and eventually transitioned to yard pants, and ultimately cut off as shorts.  What stayed through that transition was that iconic yellow tag, and the attitude.  It’s a shame, folks.  A crying shame.

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15 Comments

  1. Steven M Bremer
    10/30/2017 / 8:02 AM

    Great post and you echoed the way I feel. It seems that everyone wants to play in the $100 khaki pool. What brand do you feel is today’s Duck Head of old when it comes to value?

  2. Andrew
    10/30/2017 / 8:10 AM

    So true. I was saddened to see the prices they intended to charge. Priced me out for sure.

  3. Nem
    10/30/2017 / 8:26 AM

    Good post.  We sold DH pants at the store I worked in during college in Athens.  They were inexpensive even with tailoring to narrow the pant legs.  The olive color is still the best shade of olive ever made.  When the 2nd incarnation of the brand came about a few years back I bought a pair, full price, and returned them for a refund.  The fabric had the look, but not the feel, of quality material.  Seam stitching was loose, and the pockets were shallow. And the white patch looked funny.  This new iteration, noticed by many last week via that G&G ad, likely won’t be much better.  But, I don’t blame the owners for trying to make money off the brand, I hope they can make it work.

  4. Perry
    10/30/2017 / 8:39 AM

    Until not that long ago I still had a pair of cut-off (appropriate for yard work) 20ish year old DH khakis. They either shrank or perhaps I went up a waist size. I would in a heart beat buy more like those. But will not pay in excess of 100 dollars for a pair of Chinese khakis with a duck on the hip. 

  5. Tcb
    10/30/2017 / 9:18 AM

    I love Lands ends knockabout chinos. For 50 bucks they hold up well and are easy to iron. 

  6. M
    10/30/2017 / 9:29 AM

    Well said.  Sadly Duck Head is over, but it was a hell of run while it lasted.  

  7. Barron Chandler
    10/30/2017 / 9:51 AM

    Great post.  At this point, If I’m going to drop $100 on a pair of pants it’ll be the Bulletprufe chinos.  I’m a rut buyer.  When I find something I like I typically don’t stray, especially at the higher price point.  I appreciate the nostalgia aspect of Duck Head, but the market, as you said, is becoming saturated with $100 pants.  Definitely would be nice to see a push towards lesser priced pants that provide good quality at a value priced.  It’s nice to have at least two “levels” of pants for various ventures.  

  8. Trip
    10/30/2017 / 9:56 AM

    This post is spot-on. I especially don’t understand redesigning the logo. No one cares about the “heritage” label from 1906; no one who wore those pants back then is alive still. People only care about the yellow tag from the 80s/90s.

  9. Steve
    10/30/2017 / 10:16 AM

    It is a shame. Like other readers I’d be interested to know what you consider a quality value play. I’ve found decent value but sizing is lousy, especially for a slim guy like myself. 

  10. RH
    10/30/2017 / 12:48 PM

    Amen. I’ll resist the urge to pile on here because “If you can’t say something nice….”

  11. April
    10/30/2017 / 6:42 PM

    Yes! My thoughts exactly! We decided to give Duck Head a shot a couple of years ago in my men’s shop in Carrollton. This was an extremely tough sell. Quality was bad and WAY over priced. Our customers were flat out confused! You hit the nail on the head! Great read! 

  12. Tanner
    10/30/2017 / 7:00 PM

    While I tend to stay away from the outlet varieties I’ve picked up several pairs of the chinos a few years ago at the J. Crew Factory Store. While they’re no comparison to the more expensive ones offered at actual J. Crew store they’re pretty good knock around chinos that I paid about $20 for with the their discounts. Unfortunately, I think now all they offer is cheaper and skinnier versions now which I don’t like. I was very much looking forward to the new Duck Head but there is no way I’d pay $118 for their new ones. 

  13. SB
    10/31/2017 / 5:42 PM

    At least the last one had a reason for making them so expensive — they were supposedly made in the USA. Of course, those guys went bankrupt because the quality was crap. I bought a couple of the polos on deep discount off the sales rack at the local men’s store (I think $7 each) and they’re okay for knockabout shirts, but pretty thin material and too boxy a cut. I suspect the pants were similarly disappointing.

  14. Herb
    11/01/2017 / 7:43 PM

    Amen, my thoughts exactly. 

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