VF Corp. is quietly stitching together a highly profitable apparel empire. Once highly dependent on the mature and low-margin jeans business, VF in recent years has been diversifying to jumpstart sales. Since 2003, VF has spent about $1.5 billion to acquire a variety of companies including Nautica and Vans.
Along with The North Face, these new additions comprise a formidable portfolio of lifestyle brands, which generally carry higher gross margins than VF's historical core offering of mass-market apparel. Another plus is that VF owns fewer than half of its factories, down from more than 60% in 2000, allowing it to operate a lower-cost and more flexible supply chain.