VF Corp and Others Learn the Importance of Innovation In a Tough Economy

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Memo to consumer products companies: Innovate, or else.

While stocks are surging and consumer confidence remains high, the who's who of consumer companies are finding that to get finicky U.S. consumers to pry open their digital wallets, the products on offer must be ridiculously innovative. If they aren't, those products are probably going to be left collecting dust on the shelves at a Wal-Mart ( WMT) or a  Macy's ( M). 
"The economy hasn't been a headwind lately; I don't think it has been a tailwind. Within this neutral economy, we have been trying to do whatever we can to deal with [what] we've been handed," explained VF Corp ( VFC) President and CEO Eric Wiseman, in an interview.

This neutral economy, which is not too hot nor too cold, has sent VF, owner of household name clothing brands such as North Face, Timberland, Wrangler and Vans, off to invest good sums of money on developing and marketing products a consumer likely doesn't have in his or her closet.
  


Some of those products come from within VF Corp's North Face outdoor apparel brand, and sport names like "Fuseform" and "Thermoball" that just sound technologically superior to a typical jacket found at department stores. Fuseform's name is a play on how the lines' garments are constructed, from two materials woven into a single fabric. According to VF Corp, the jackets, which could fetch up to $299, are lighter, less bulky, stronger and more durable than competitors' brands thanks to a new manufacturing process.

As for Thermoball, which is made from a new synthetic, lighter-weight down that took VF Corp some time to develop, prices range from $180 to $199 for a men's or women's jacket.  The jackets are easier to move in than traditional down jackets, which are often heavier. 

"These are smaller, more expensive products -- but are technically amazing products," pointed out Wiseman.

Sales of Thermoball products surged by a triple-digit percentage both at department stores and in the company's own retail stores in the first quarter, according to VF Corp. Overall revenue for the North Face brand in its Americas segment rose by a mid-single digit percentage, led primarily by e-commerce and retail store operations.

Several other fresh innovations for VF Corp have popped up in the denim category, where products are sold under the Wrangler and Lee brands. The U.S. denim market was weak in 2013 and 2014 amid consumer interest in slim fit jogger pants and tight-fitting yoga pants. So to get consumers interested in buying jeans again, VF Corp unveiled jeans with stretch fabric for women who were choosing to wear Lululemon (LULUyoga pants. As for men, the Wrangler brand is now hawking denim that boasts new technology to keep men cool.

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