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Most treasured item of clothing? / 140 years of Levi Strauss & Co

In Levis We Trust

A Heritage Brand Sustains Over a Century of Category Leadership

If you are like a lot of people whose most treasured item of clothing is their favourite pair of jeans, you might not know that the origin of denim comes from the sturdy French fabric created in Nimes, France (serge de Nimes, shortened to “denim” in the late 1800s).

This article is by Jamie Gordon, Vice President, Consumer Anthropology at Northstar Research Partners.  Northstar is a leading global full-service market research and consulting firm. Jamie is a brand strategy and strategic research specialist, digging deep into the context of consumerism to find new ways to drive brand growth.

As far as most of the jeans-wearing public are concerned, this wardrobe staple came from the genius of a man called Levi Strauss, who founded the first company to manufacture blue jeans in San Francisco, California in 1853.

140 years later, Levi Strauss & Co remains one of the most recognisable and popular brands in a category that has since become saturated. Whether you are going by industry data or plain-old “stating the obvious” intuition, there is no refuting that Levi Strauss is the brand at the head of the pack.

The reason? Put simply: heritage.

Levis is one of the few (if not only) brands that has existed since the dawn of industrialisation in America, and that has consistently demonstrated a commitment to authenticity. While they have been adept at reinventing themselves from a product and marketing perspective over the years to be in line with changes in consumer culture, Levi Strauss & Co. has never strayed from their core identity as influenced by the original 501 – “superior quality and fit for all”. Levis’ unparalleled accessibility means that regardless of your demographic realities, or function versus fashion inclinations, if you walk into a shop to buy a pair of jeans, you can be guaranteed to find a pair of Levis that fits your price range and preferences.

What’s also notable is that, as of their 140 year anniversary today (20 May, 2013), they will have remained a stable corporate presence in an ever-changing consumer landscape. You can probably count on one hand the number of global brands that can makes such a claim.

But the timeless tale that keeps Levis firmly affixed to the hearts of the jeans-wearing public harkens back to their American heritage as a product that met a distinct rugged-wearable’s need for the workers of the “wild west” as they literally built America from the ground up. It is this bootstrapping mentality that, no matter how much the economic, sociocultural or consumer landscape has changed, remains a core part of American identity and heritage.

Levis has stayed in touch

The penchant for authenticity and history has only grown over the years as consumers’ culture has shifted to value locally produced goods, and products that offer the benefit of simplicity; Levis has stayed in touch and made a point to connect to these among other evolving needs. For example, they have made a point to return to domestic production for selected lines, and have notably retooled their women’s business (based on extensive research) to offer fits for just about any body shape – something that has transformed the jeans shopping experience from distressing to delightful.

In today’s increasingly competitive consumer landscape, context is everything. Marketers everywhere should celebrate the anniversary of this iconic American brand that has always remained true to the context of their own heritage, while always making a point to stay connected to the context of macro-culture and that of the consumer. It is this commitment to advancing understanding that likely sustain a leadership position for Levis for the next 140 years.

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