Brands

Fruit of the Loom Is Selling $70 T-Shirts, but Only in Europe


Fruit of the Loom Is Selling $70 T-Shirts, but Only in Europe

Courtesy Fruit of the Loom

Walk into the pop-up store on trendy Torstrasse in Berlin and the first things you’ll see are giant foam artworks in the shape of fruit: an apple core the height of a medium-size woman, a towering watermelon spear, a citrus slice as big as a train station clock. In the next room, cotton-blend jersey pieces in a subdued palette dominated by grays and blues hang on the racks.

Check the price tag on that T-shirt dress with the intriguing print and you would never guess (foam fruit notwithstanding) that this line of super-chic sweatshirt wear is the work of Fruit of the Loom.

At €130 ($180) for the dress (regular T-shirts start at €50), Seek No Further, Fruit of the Loom’s new premium brand, is certainly a departure from the down-to-earth basics the company is known for at home and abroad. On Walmart.com, a four-pack of men’s crewneck tees sells for under $15.

The differences don’t end with the price point. The new collection, which includes 17 pieces for men and 17 for women, is downright exclusive. Conceived by Dorothée Loermann, a Parisian fashion designer with a cult following, the clothes are well-made and hard to come by: The line is available only at two pop-up stores, one in Berlin, the other in London. These temporary stores, with bespoke decorations created by contemporary artists riffing on the fruit theme, opened in March and will close at the end of July. There is a website, which like the stores makes very little of the brand’s parentage. There’s no merchandise for sale, but plenty of videos showcasing up-and-coming artists, filmmakers, animators, and photographers from Germany and the U.K. The overall feel is very indie.

Seek No Further is an experiment, one that aims to capitalize on the nostalgia Europeans feel for an import of their youth. Fruit of the Loom launched in Europe at the end of the 1970s and quit the market a decade later. The company still supplies T-shirts and sweatshirts to printers for, say, sports paraphernalia, though often without the Fruit of the Loom logo.

“In Europe, there are great memories associated with the brand,” says Antoine Thieser, Seek No Further’s business developer. “It was really popular in the ’80s and ’90s—Fruit of the Loom and Levi’s 501s, this was the uniform of the ’90s.”

“In the U.S., it doesn’t have the same sexiness,” adds Thieser. “Everybody here has a story of the brand—‘Oh, it reminds me of when I was young’—there are so many things people were doing in these T-shirts!”

“We thought, we should do something with all this really positive equity.”

For the new brand, the all-European design team headed by Loermann traveled to Kentucky to delve into Fruit of the Loom’s archives, which stretch back to the company’s founding in the 1800s. (The name for the new line comes from a 19th century advertisement for a kind of heirloom apple called Westfield Seek-No-Further).

The designers took inspiration from vintage fabrics, stitches, and concepts, but designed a slick, modern look with a focus on unusual or surprising fabrics, such as a wool-blend sweatshirt or a cotton top with a touch of neoprene woven into the fabric. “We had to reinvent the sweatshirt,” says Thieser. “We tried to source exclusive fabric. It has to be special, surprising to the touch.”

They also played with new ideas: That €130 T-shirt dress, for example, has a print that recalls the blurriness of a TV screen—a reference to MTV. “We thought, in Europe, not everyone knows about this long history of Fruit of the Loom in the 1800s, but everyone remembers the 1980s and MTV.”

Another piece includes a subtle print of lamb chops and apples—the first time meat has been featured in a Fruit of the Loom garment. “We wanted to go back to the roots without being vintage,” explains Thieser. “We’re not like Levi’s, where you go to the archives and reproduce something. We went to the archive as a source of inspiration.”

A small, incubator-like team of 10 people based in London was in charge of the design of the clothing and that of the pop-up stores. The line was produced in Portugal, Italy, Slovakia, and China, at factories that don’t regularly produce goods for Fruit of the Loom.

Like exotic fruit, Seek No Further may be a seasonal item. “We’ll be back next year,” says Thieser, who adds that they might add an online shop in the future and eventually bring the brand to the U.S.

McGrane is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributer, based in Berlin.

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