Lee and Wrangler hope to be Wall Street jeans hit like Levi’s

Levi Strauss enjoyed a fashionable debut on the New York Stock Exchange last week. Now the owner of Lee and Wrangler wants to prove that there’s room for another dedicated denim maker on Wall Street.

VF Corp. — which also owns Vans sneakers, The North Face jackets and Timberland boots — plans to spin off its jeans business sometime during the first half of this year.

The new company will be known as Kontoor Brands. VF chairman and CEO Steve Rendle called the name “a creative variation of the word contour” last December, when the company announced its spinoff plans.

But Kontoor Brands might have a tough time duplicating the success of Levi Strauss, which gained 32% on its first day of trading. While Levi’s sales and profits are growing, VF Corp.’s jeans division is shrinking.

VF Corp. said in its most recent quarterly SEC filing that sales in its jeans unit fell 3.5% — to $1.9 billion — in the nine months ending in December compared with a year earlier. Earnings were down 13.5%.

Lee and Wrangler are no Levi’s

This could make Kontoor a tough sell on Wall Street.

Stifel analyst James Duffy wrote in a report last month that the “fundamentals remain challenged” for the Kontoor Brands business.

Duffy estimated that the company could be worth about $4 billion in a spinoff. That’s less than half of the market value for Levi’s right now.

It also remains to be seen what the investor appetite for Kontoor will be like — and not just because Levi Strauss is now public.

Investors will also soon be able to buy shares of standalone clothing retailer Old Navy, which is being spun off by Gap and is a big seller of low-priced jeans.

Finally, fashion trends are very fickle. Wall Street can be extremely unforgiving of any shortfalls.

On the same day that Levi’s went public, shares of Guess plunged nearly 13% after the company reported a drop in sales at stores open at least a year, and earnings that missed forecasts.