Celebrating Our 125th Anniversary Around The World


The H.D. Lee Mercantile Company was established in 1889 to bring necessities to customers in the newly settled state of Kansas.

Henry David Lee and his sales force talked to customers to find out what they needed and wanted, and worked to deliver the highest quality products at an affordable price. In 1920, founder H.D. Lee stated, “We believe in quality…We prefer to sell one garment of highest quality to one hundred of inferior grade. It means better business and greater satisfaction for us … and for the customer.”  H.D. Lee’s commitment to providing quality products to meet changing consumer needs continues to guide the company in developing new designs to match consumer lifestyles today.

 “We believe in quality…We prefer to sell one garment of highest quality to one hundred of inferior grade. It means better business and greater satisfaction for us…and for the customer.” – H.D. Lee 

To celebrate Lee’s 125th anniversary in 2014, Lee Asia Pacific designed products with the company’s 125-year heritage in mind, reinterpreting some of Lee’s most iconic denim wear to suit a modern city lifestyle. Every little detail is important—from selvage seams and top-stitching, to quality construction, comfort and fit.

To introduce the line, Lee AP assembled a collection of original Lee garments, dating from 1918 to the 1960s, showcasing some of Lee’s most important early design innovations. These 27 vintage Lee pieces are the focus of the “Lee Archive Asia Tour” making stops in major cities across Asia this year. The “Stay Curious” themed exhibit tour kicked off in Beijing, China, then, traveled to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Manila. This month, it will reach its final destination of Mumbai, India. And I get to go along!

As Lee’s Historian for the past decade, I was invited by Lee Asia Pacific’s Minnie Leung, Senior Product Director, and Caleb Cheng, Marketing Director, to be their special guest for the 125th anniversary events, as an authority on the history of the Lee Company. In each city, I conduct tours and give interviews to the media about Lee’s history.

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In each location, the first day is a media event and is followed by a one-week free exhibition open to the public. Each exhibit and event also reflects the unique characteristics of the host country or city.

The first trip took me to Beijing, China in April (coinciding with Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in China). There, a 5,000-square-foot, two-story pop-up structure was built out of six shipping containers in just 48 hours to hold the exhibit of Lee’s past, present and future! Visitors were greeted by:

  • 125 Buddy Lee dolls (raffle giveaways) dressed in 101+ (the latest design Lee jeans and jackets),
  • a timeline of Lee’s design milestones,
  • the 27 Archive-quality pieces (vintage jackets, work wear and jeans),
  • specially-commissioned photographs by Japanese artist Araki exploring “the essence of denim,”
  • Lee AP’s 2014 designs, denim looks of the future designed by four Chinese collaboration artists,
  • a DIY lab where visitors could make a Lee brand souvenir and
  • a “blow-out-the-candles”  interactive birthday cake.

130 members of the Asian media attended the event and took the tour, then were treated to a mini-concert by singer-songwriter Khalil Fong. Over 10,000 people visited the Lee 125th Archive Exhibition in the five public days.

Beijing pop-up building

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While in China, I was able to take in some of the cultural and historic sites, including Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and hike the Great Wall, too!

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My second trip was a two-week whirlwind tour of four cities—Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Manila. A museum gallery in Tokyo’s Harajuku District was the site of the Archive exhibit in Tokyo. Lee Japan’s Creative Director, Hidekazu Hosokawa, is recognized world-wide as a denim expert. Mini concerts by famous Japanese singer-songwriters created an extra draw. Exhibit guides were dressed in an updated version of Lee’s famous 1927 Whizit overalls, with white oxford dress shirts and string ties!

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In Hong Kong and Shanghai, I met with the Lee teams at corporate headquarters for five-hour history training sessions. From product designers and marketing pros to retail and license managers—all were intensely interested in the opportunity to examine the Archive pieces up close and learn more about Lee’s history. And, what a delight to meet and work with Minoru Watanabe, Lead Designer for Lee AP, whose passion for design details is phenomenal!

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In Manila, the exhibit traveled to three large malls across the city in conjunction with Fashion Week in the Philippines.  At the opening event inside the Glorietta Activity Centre, a high energy dance performance by the Philippine All-Stars kicked off the event, followed by a fashion show of Lee’s 101+ collection where six Philippine beauty queens made an appearance and asked for a tour of the exhibit.

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The next stop on the tour is Mumbai, India, after which I plan to take a relaxing eight-day tour of India and see sites in New Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra, and the ancient cities of Jaipur and Udaipur.

It’s an exciting time to be on the Lee team. Our 125-year milestone brings with it a lot of exciting events that celebrate our heritage and American roots — all around the world! What began as H.D. Lee’s vision to create quality, affordable products has grown from its Kansas headquarters to a worldwide brand, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Now, I’m off to India this week and looking forward to seeing what unique qualities the Lee India team will bring to its event! Stay tuned for updates!

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