The company synonymous with denim goes back far in time. Levi Strauss & Co essentially crafted the first pair of blue jeans in 1873 and marked Levi’s as a heritage brand, and its creator, Levi Strauss as the inventor of the quintessential American garment.
The first pair was made from denim, the traditional fabric for men’s workwear and they became a fast success, originally known as ‘overalls’ until the 1960s until baby boomers coined the garment, ‘jeans’ instead.
Fast forward over a hundred years with the rise of various designer denim brands like Seven For All Mankind and True Religion and fast fashion, the company needs to re-introduce itself to the next wave of shoppers.
Now, in 2017, the household name employs a salesforce of 22,000, 50 plants and offices across 35 countries. Levi’s is making a comeback by leveraging the rise athleisure, the return of the classic, worn-out denim jacket and today’s digital tools.
Levi’s first innovation was the creation of the 501 denim jeans itself, back in the 1870s, for working men.
In 2002, Robert Hanson, former Levi’s President, began focusing on women after Levi’s overall sales has plummeted 40%, from $7.1 billion in 1996 to $4 billion at the end of 2002.
He also reached out to 14,000 individuals and got them to try on Levi’s in order to design the perfect fit for different body types, including ‘sexier’ styles for men. Hanson also deployed two brands, Red Line and Pure Blue, with a price range of $35-95.
“We’ve been accused of trying to be everything to everybody in the past,” admits Hanson. “This time, we have to be one thing to everybody.”
The company’s makeover also included the layout of its offline stores. Walk into any Levi’s and notice its jeans are stored the way you would display fine wines or valuable relics. But was this enough against the newer, flashier denim brands?
“Levi’s is going to have to prove to people that the product is competitive from a style and quality standpoint, and that has to be based on something more than the heritage of Levi’s, which seems to be their endless fallback position,” said Hamilton South, partner at luxury consulting firm HL Group.
The digital age has allowed the company to experiment.
Earlier this year, Levi’s partnered with Google to launch Project Jacquard, a tech ‘wearable’ collab between the two. Wearers can control certain actions on their smartphone by tapping and swiping a nearly invisible fabric touch interface woven into the left wrist of the classic Levi’s denim jacket.
The Jacquard jacket will sell for $350 this fall.
“Expect digital assistants, cellular connectivity, and connections to larger systems, both at home and at work. At the same time, expect to see a proliferation in the diversity of devices brought to market, and a decline in prices that will make these more affordable to a larger crowd,” says IDC Wearable’s team research manager Ramon T. Llamas.
More recently, Levi’s has become a part of Amazon Prime Wardrobe, the new initiative for Prime customers to order items to their home to try on without buying.
President and CEO Chip Bergh said in a statement. “Our direct-to-consumer business continues to drive our results with both brick and mortar and ecommerce growing double digits.”
In Q3 2016, Levi’s reported that net income rose 69%, partly due to cost cutting efforts and rising revenues. Revenue growth was mainly due to direct to consumer sales, which grew 14% for both offline store sales and ecommerce.
IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
aCommerce shares that the brand tested the market with a popshop first – a simple branded landing page where customers can choose to buy from a few items. The positive feedback reinforced the brand’s decision to commit to ecommerce as another distribution channel alongside its 77 offline stores in Thailand.
In Malaysia, Levi’s partnered with music streaming service, Deezer, to introduce its 2015 fall women’s denim collection. A custom built Levi’s in-app page was created via the Deezer platform, including a nationwide contest to encourage consumers to submit empowering songs to a collective playlist called #LadiesinLevisMY, which went viral on social media.
Levi’s is conditioning its relevancy in the fashion world through a digital strategy to boost its classic products i.e. the 501 jeans and remain relevant. At the same time, while rightfully refusing to discard its heritage.
It might want to rethink the Google jacket though.