Duck Head is a brand name for clothing and shoes in the United States. First registered as a trademark in the late 19th century, the name has been used by several different manufacturers and retailers of apparel, primarily in the southern United States. Duck Head apparel had a period of great popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The Duck Head brand was founded in 1865 in Nashville, Tennessee by George and Joe O'Bryan, two brothers who were buying surplus U.S. Army tent material. The material was a heavy canvas known as "duck", and the brothers began making work pants and shirts out of the strong material. Their company became known as the O’Bryan Brothers Manufacturing Company. The brothers sought to register the name "Duck" as a trademark in 1892, but the U.S. Trademark Registration Office rejected their application because the term was in general use. They registered the trademark "Duck Head" instead. The company operated into the late 20th century, producing work clothing such as overalls and denim jackets under the Duck Head brand.
In 1978, David Baseheart, the O'Bryan Company's young, energetic sales director, developed an idea that quickly converted Duck Head into a fashionable brand. Baseheart fashioned a shipment of cotton khaki fabric into dress pants, applied the mallard logo to a bright yellow tag on the back of the pants, and went on the road to sell them, visiting first the University of Mississippi campus bookstore where he sold his first batch of the new Duck Head khakis. The pants sold out quickly, and a new southern U.S. trend was born. Soon, and throughout the 1980s, Duck Head khakis were standard in Southern fashion, leading a writer for Forbes magazine to observe some years later: "For a preppy southern college guy in the 1980s, Duck Head Apparel khakis were as indispensable as a pair of worn Topsiders and a pink Polo shirt."
Delta Woodside Industries and Tropical Sportswear International
Baseheart bought the O'Bryan Company in 1985. In 1989, the brand was purchased by Delta Woodside Industries in an attempt to create a national brand. The Duck Head brand was very successful for Delta Woodside in the early 1990s. The Duck Head product line had been limited to casual cotton pants for men, but Delta Woodside expanded it by adding woven and knit shirts, shorts, and women's clothing to the Duck Head brand product line. During the company's 1992 fiscal year, gross sales revenue from Duck Head clothing totaled more than $130 million. In the following years, however, the brand's popularity declined and Delta Woodside experienced financial losses, and in 1999, the company spun off Duck Head Apparel in an attempt to save the company. Tropical Sportswear International bought the Duck Head Apparel company in 2001, but went bankrupt in 2005.
Goody's Family Clothing
In 2003, Goody's Family Clothing purchased rights to the Duck Head clothing brand for $4.1 million and made it into a private label brand, sold exclusively at Goody's stores. Sales of Duck Head branded clothing totaled more than $97 million in 2004, the last year when Goody's was a publicly traded company required to disclose financial information.
Prospect Brands Ownership
After Goody's underwent Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008 and then liquidated and closed all of its stores under a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing in 2009, the Duck Head brand was put up for sale by Streambank LLC. Streambank sold the brand at auction in 2009, for a reported price of $2.65 million. It was purchased by a business group headed by Virginia retailer Ross Sternheimer, who outbid Perry Ellis International. The acquiring business established Duck Head USA, based in Richmond, Virginia, and announced plans to expand the Duck Head brand into a full line of men's, women's and children's apparel and accessories to be sold through various retailers. Prospect Brands LLC has announced it purchased the Duck Head brand from the Richmond group and the brand will be relaunched and based in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. Greensboro is also home to apparel giant VF Corp which owns brands such as Lee and Wrangler Jeans.
The Lanier Apparel Division of Oxford Industries (NYSE: OXM) based in Atlanta, Georgia acquired the Duck Head brand in 2016. The initial re-launch was primarily online, with chinos, sport shirts and t-shirts available for purchase directly from the company. In March 2018, Bill Thomas, founder of menswear brand Bill’s Khakis, was announced by Oxford Industries as the Brand Director of Duck Head.
- History of the Brand Archived 2009-08-12 at the Wayback Machine., Duck Head International LLC website, accessed October 23, 2010
- "Duck Head Footwear » About Us".
- Steve Goldberg (Cox News Service), Duck Head bottom line covers U.S., Wilmington Star, May 29, 1990.
- Eileen Glanton, Duck Soup, Forbes, November 13, 2000.
- Delta Woodside Industries, Inc., International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 30. St. James Press, 2000. Retrieved from FundingUniverse.com website, October 23, 2010.
- Tropical Sportswear Int'l to buy Duck Head Apparel for 0.20 times revenue, Weekly Corporate Growth Report, Monday, July 16, 2001. Retrieved from AllBusiness.com, October 23, 2010.
- Gregory J. Gilligan, Relaunching Duck Head, Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 19, 2010
- Goody’s Retains Streambank to Sell Duck Head and Other Brands, Business Wire, March 31, 2009