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Who’s the boss, and how can Hugo Boss get them to wear its clothes again? These are the pressing questions confronting the German luxury brand, once known for its pricey power suits, particularly in the modern age of sweatpants and athleisure.

It may come as no surprise, but suits were not in high demand during the pandemic. Hugo Boss’s sales dropped by about one-third in 2020, as shops (and everything else) around the world closed, and people stopped wearing pants at all, let alone fancy ones. But it wasn’t all COVID’s fault. Hugo Boss had already been in decline, beginning in 2018. That year, the company blamed disappointing sales on bad weather: “The long, hot summer in Europe affected our business,” then-CEO Mark Langer said. The next year, the issues to blame included “persistent macroeconomic uncertainties” in North America and “political unrest and demonstrations” in Hong Kong. Of course, no one needs reminding what happened in 2020. But some expert observers suggest that the main problem is not external influences; it is that clothing buyers are no longer purchasing so many suits, and Hugo Boss failed to pivot to offer appealing, sufficient alternatives.

In June 2021, Hugo Boss brought in a new CEO, Daniel Grieder, formerly of Tommy Hilfiger, who announced plans to revamp the company’s image to entice younger consumers. Grieder boldly claimed he expected Hugo Boss would double its sales by 2025—to $4.75 billion, noting during his first strategy talk with employees that, “Our potential is incredible. Of course, consumers must be at the center of all our efforts. Consumers must become more than mere consumers. They must become our fans. We need fans.”

And where else to find fans but through social media, right? In early 2022, Hugo Boss launched its major rebrand, focused on two of the company’s subbrands: Hugo and Boss. Boss is the brand for “older” consumers—Millennials in the 25–40-year demographic. (People older than that, well, they maybe should just keep looking/clicking.) TikTok superstar Khaby Lame—and his 134.6 million followers—are among the brand ambassadors who have been hired to help promote Boss. Never mind that Lame is only 21 years of age. Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber, Lee Min-ho, and Future are among the other influencers starring in the #BeYourOwnBoss campaign. The clothes include a collaboration with Russell Athletic, featuring suits so comfortable and immune to wrinkles that Grieder says “you can sleep in that suit and you can get up and it still looks like you just put it on.”

Then the Hugo subbrand is targeting at Gen Z shoppers. Featured items include bucket hats, loose pants, and its own roster of international social media stars to wear the clothes and use the hashtag #HowDoYouHUGO on TikTok and whatever other platforms young people are using these days.

If it’s too soon to say whether Hugo Boss will become the blockbuster go-to brand for the stylish under-40-year set, sales have been rising. A preliminary report shows that Hugo Boss’s sales rose 43 percent last year—to end up down just 1 percent relative to its status before the pandemic started.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Will young people respond to Hugo Boss’s new marketing campaigns? What would draw them to buy these clothes, or turn them off from buying them?
  2. Is the pandemic responsible for Hugo Boss’s lagging sales? What are some other factors that played a role?
  3. Do people want to buy or wear a suit that they could sleep in? How would you redesign some other traditional garments to be more appealing to consumers in today’s world?
  4. Is achieving approximately the same level of sales it had before the pandemic a signal of success for Hugo Boss or not? Explain your answer

Source: André Wheeler, “Can Hugo Boss Actually Be Cool?” The New York Times, January 26, 2022; Roxanne Robinson, “How Hugo Boss’s CEO Is Revamping the Brand to Cater to Gen Z and Millennials,” Forbes, January 26, 2022; Lucy Maguire, “Inside the Big Hugo Boss Rebrand,” Vogue Business, January 26, 2022; “Hugo Boss Exceeds 2021 Sales Target After Strong Q4,” Reuters, January 18, 2022; “Hugo Boss Sinks to 2020 Loss On COVID-19 Impact,” TradingView, March 11, 2021; Sarah Provan and Olaf Storbeck, “Hugo Boss Slumps to Lowest Level In Nine Years After Profit Warning,” Financial Times, October 11, 2019; Angelina Rascouet, “Hugo Boss Seeks to Double Sales Under New CEO Daniel Grieder,” Bloomberg, August 4, 2021; Olivier Guyot, “New Hugo Boss CEO Daniel Grieder Targets €4 Billion Sales by 2025,” Fashion Network, August 25, 2021; Melissa Foong, “#BeYourOwnBoss: Lee Min-ho, Kendall Jenner, and More Star in the Boss SS2022 Campaign.” Lifestyle Asia, January 28, 2022