Source: VF Corporation.

VF Corporation (NYSE:VFC) reported solid financial performance for the first quarter of 2014 thanks to strength in its outdoor and sports segment. Besides, the company looks attractive in comparison to competitors such as Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Columbia Sportswear Company (NASDAQ:COLM) when considering both growth and valuation levels. This diversified apparel company can dress up your portfolio for gains.

Solid performance
Total sales during the first quarter of 2014 increased by 6.5% to $2.8 billion, the direct-to-consumer segment delivered an increase of 16% in revenues, and sales in the international segment jumped by 11% during the period.

The outdoor and action sports segment was the big growth contributor during the period, with sales increasing by 14% to $1.6 billion on the back of double-digit increases in every region. Sales of The North Face brand increased by 14%, Vans delivered an increase of 20% in revenues, and sales of Timberland products were up by 12% during the quarter.

On the other hand, sales in the jeanswear segment were down by 4% to $690 million during the quarter. Wrangler brand sales fell 2%, while sales of Lee products were down by 1% year over year.

VF Corporation produced a considerable increase of 130 basis points in gross margin to 49.5% of sales, and earnings per share increased by a healthy 12% to $0.67 per share. The figure was better than the $0.63 per share forecast on average by Wall Street analysts.

In a sign of optimism and confidence about the future, management raised its guidance for 2014. Revenue growth is forecast to be at the high end of previous guidance of between 7% and 8%, and earnings per share are expected to be in the zone of $3.06 per share versus a previous guidance of between $3.00 and $3.05 per share.

CEO Eric Wiseman shared an optimistic vision of the future in the earnings press conference:

Our ability to deliver consistent, sustainable financial performance remains grounded in the cornerstones of our growth strategy; leading innovation, connecting with consumers, serving consumers directly and expanding geographically. When we deliver on each of these in concert, VF is at its best. As I look out across the balance of the year, I can say that I've never been more confident about the potential in front of us.

VF Corporation versus Nike and Columbia Sportswear
Nike is the undisputed global leader in the sports apparel business thanks to its unparalleled global reach and extraordinary brand recognition. The company is also generating solid performance, with worldwide future orders increasing by 12% during the quarter ended on Feb. 28, so Nike arguably deserves a valuation premium versus smaller competitors.

Columbia Sportswear Company will report earnings for the first quarter of 2014 on Tuesday after the close. The company delivered a 6% increase in sales during the last quarter of 2014, so Columbia Sportswear is also doing well, even if it does not have the same scale or brand diversification as Nike or VF.

However, it's worth noting that VF Corporation has outgrown both Nike and Columbia Sportswear over the last five years, yet VF trades at a valuation discount to its peers.

VFC Revenue (TTM) Chart

VFC Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts.

VF Corporation carries a forward P/E ratio near 17.5 times earnings estimates for 2015, while Nike trades at a forward P/E ratio in the area of 21.2 and Columbia Sportswear trades at a similar valuation, with a forward P/E ratio around 21.5.

VF has a remarkable track record of dividend growth: The company has raised payments over the last 41 consecutive years, which is quite unusual for a company in a highly dynamic and competitive business such as apparel. This includes a big increase of 21% announced in October of last year.

The company beats both Nike and Columbia Sportswear when it comes to dividend yield. VF Corporation pays a dividend yield of 1.8% versus 1.3% for Nike and 1.4% for Columbia Sportswear.

Foolish takeaway
Considering its financial performance, attractive valuation in comparison to Nike and Columbia Sportswear, and rock-solid trajectory of dividend growth, VF Corporation looks well positioned to deliver solid returns for investors over years to come.