Everybody wears Jeans

Jeans represent democracy in fashion. Giorgio Armani

Levi Strauss & Co.

Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&CO) is a privately held clothing company known worldwide for its Levi’s brand of denim jeans. It was founded in 1853 when Levi Strauss came from Buttenheim, (Kingdom of Bavaria) to San Francisco, California to open a west coast branch of his brothers’ New York dry goods business. Although the company began producing denim overalls in the 1870s, modern jeans were not produced until the 1920s. The company briefly experimented (in the 1970s) with employee ownership and a public stock listing, but remains owned and controlled by descendants and relatives of Levi Strauss’ four nephews.

Organization

Levi Strauss & Co. is a worldwide corporation organized into three geographic divisions: Levi Strauss Americas (LSA), based in the San Francisco headquarters; Levi Strauss Europe, Middle East and Africa (LSEMA), based inBrussels; and Asia Pacific Division (APD), based in Singapore. The company employs a staff of approximately 10,500 people worldwide, and owns and develops a few brands. Levi’s, the main brand, was founded in 1873 in San Francisco, specializing in riveted denim jeans and different lines of casual and street fashion.

From the early 1960s through the mid 1970s, Levi Strauss experienced explosive growth in its business as the more casual look of the 1960s and 1970s ushered in the “blue jeans craze” and served as a catalyst for the brand. Levi’s, under the leadership of Jay Walter Haas Sr., Peter Haas Sr., Paul Glasco and George P. Simpkins Sr., expanded the firm’s clothing line by adding new fashions and models, including stoned washed jeans through the acquisition of Great Western Garment Co.(GWG), a Canadian clothing manufacturer, acquired by Levi’s. GWG was responsible for the introduction of the modern “stone washing” technique, still in use by Levi Strauss.

Mr. Simpkins is credited with the company’s record paced expansion of its manufacturing capacity Perhaps most impressive, however, was Levi’s expansion under Simpkins was accomplished without a single unionized employee as a result of Levi’s’ and the Hass families’ strong stance on human rights and Simpkins’ use of “pay for performance” manufacturing at the sewing machine operator level up. As a result, Levi’s’ plants were perhaps the highest performing, best organized and cleanest textile facilities of their time. Levi’s even piped in massive amounts of air conditioning for the comfort of Levi’s workers into its press plants, which were known in the industry to be notoriously hot.

2004 saw a sharp decline of GWG in the face of global outsourcing, so the company was closed and the Edmonton manufacturing plant shut down. The Dockers brand, launched in 1986which is sold largely through department store chains, helped the company grow through the mid-1990s, as denim sales began to fade. Levi Strauss attempted to sell the Dockers division in 2004 to relieve part of the company’s $2 billion outstanding debt.

Launched in 2003, Levi Strauss Signature features jeans wear and casual wear.

History

Jacob Davis was a tailor who frequently purchased bolts of cloth made from hemp from Levi Strauss & Co.’s wholesale house. After one of Davis’ customers kept purchasing cloth to reinforce torn pants, he had an idea to use copper rivets to reinforce the points of strain, such as on the pocket corners and at the base of the button fly. Davis did not have the required money to purchase a patent, so he wrote to Strauss suggesting that they go into business together. After Levi accepted Jacob’s offer, on May 20, 1873, the two men received U.S: Patent 139,121 from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The patented rivet was later incorporated into the company’s jean design and advertisements. Contrary to an advertising campaign suggesting that Levi Strauss sold his first jeans to gold miners during the California Gold Rush (which peaked in 1849), the manufacturing of denim overalls only began in the 1870s.

Levi Strauss started the business at the 90 Sacramento Street address in San Francisco. He next moved the location to 62 Sacramento Street then 63 & 65 Sacramento Street. By changing the location of the store the company began to become more successful.

Modern jeans began to appear in the 1920s, but sales were largely confined to the working people of the western United States, such as cowboys, lumberjacks, and railroad workers. Levi’s jeans apparently were first introduced to the East during the dude ranch craze of the 1930s, when vacationing Easterners returned home with tales (and usually examples) of the hard-wearing pants with rivets.

Another boost came in World War II, when blue jeans were declared an essential commodity and were sold only to people engaged in defense work. From a company with fifteen salespeople, two plants, and almost no business east of the Mississippi in 1946, the organization grew in thirty years to include a sales force of more than 22,000, with 50 plants and offices in 35 countries.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Levi’s jeans became popular among a wide range of youth subcultures, includinggreasers, mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads. Levi’s popular shrink-to-fit 501s were sold in a unique sizing arrangement; the indicated size was related to the size of the jeans prior to shrinking, and the shrinkage was substantial. The company still produces these unshrunk, uniquely sized jeans, and they are still Levi’s number one selling product. Although popular lore (abetted by company marketing) holds that the original design remains unaltered, this is not the case: the company’s president got too close to a campfire, and the rivet at the bottom of the crotch conducted the fire’s heat too well; the offending rivet, which is depicted in old advertisements, was removed.

1990s and later

By the 1990s, the brand was facing competition from other brands and cheaper products from overseas, and began accelerating the pace of its US factory closures and its use of offshore subcontracting agreements. Today, Levis jeans are made overseas.

The firm is today owned almost entirely by indirect descendants and relatives of Levi Strauss, whose four nephews inherited the San Francisco dry goods firm after their uncle’s death in 1902. The corporation’s bonds are traded publicly, as are shares of the company’s Japanese affiliate, Levi Strauss Japan K.K.
According to the New York Times, Levi Strauss leads the apparel industry in trademark infringement cases, filing nearly 100 lawsuits against competitors since 2001.

By 2007, Levi Strauss was again said to be profitable after declining sales in nine of the previous ten years. After more than two decades of family ownership, rumors of a possible public stock offering were floated in the media in July 2007.

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