Levi-Strauss & Co.
LEVI-STRAUSS & CO.
American clothier company
Founded: by Levi Strauss (1829-1902) in the 1850s. Company History: Levi Strauss arrived in San Francisco in 1853, and began selling dry goods to gold prospectors. Strauss made and sold "waist-high overalls" out of material originally intended for sale as tent canvas; rivets used to reinforce seams and pockets, 1873; company passed to four nephews after Strauss' death, 1902; beige twill introduced, 1960s; corduroy jeans introduced, 1961; stretch jeans and Sta-Prest® slacks introduced, 1964; womenswear introduced, 1968; began manufacturing and marketing in Hong Kong, early 1970s; company went public, 1971 (family members retained controlling interest); official outfitters of U.S. Winter and Summer Olympic teams, and Los Angeles Olympic Games staff, 1984; publicly-held shares repurchased by family members, 1985; casual Dockers line of pants introduced, 1986; Slates dress slacks first marketed, 1996; Original Spin, custom jeans program, initiated 1998; first nonfamily member CEO takes reins, 1999; jeans and jackets with "wearable electronics" marketed in Europe, 2000. Collections: Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Awards: Coty Special award, 1971. Company Address: 1155 Battery Street, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA. Company Website: www.levistrauss.com.
On LEVI STRAUSS & CO.:
Kurtz, Irma, "Levis: Not So Much a Pair of Pants, More a Nation's Heirloom," in Nova (London), September 1970.
Willat, N., "The Levitation of Levi Strauss," in Management Today (London), January 1977.
"Levi Strauss & Co.," in American Fabrics & Fashions (New York), No. 109, 1977.
"Market Manipulation: The Levis 501 Experience," in International Textiles (London), July 1987.
"Denim: Is the Party Over?" in Fashion Weekly (London), 14 January 1988.
Bradley, Lisa, "A Modest Success," in Fashion Weekly (London), 14January 1988.
Simpson, Blaise, "Levi's Makes Push in Women's Wear," in WWD, 2March 1988.
Rowlands, Penelope, "Vintage Power: Levi's," in WWD, (London), 10 February 1992.
Elliott, Stuart, "The Media Business: Levi's Two New Campaigns Aim at Who Fits the Jeans," in the New York Times, 27 July 1992.
Magiera, Marcy, and Pat Sloan, "Levi's, Lee Loosen Up for Baby Boomers," in Advertising Age, 3 August 1992.
"Fashion Statement," in San Francisco Business Magazine, October 1992.
Elliott, Stuart, "The Media Business: Going Beyond Campaigns and into Sales and Marketing," in the New York Times, 18 November 1992.
Ellsworth, Jo, "Engineering a Revival for Levi's," in Marketing (London), 19 October 2000.
Kastor, Elizabeth, "Smarty-Pants Pants…and Shirts," in the Washington Post, 28 December 2000.
Skolnik, Lisa "Once and Again American Ingenuity Puts a New Spin on Classic Designs," in Chicago Tribune, 15 April 2001.
"Levi Strauss Reacquires A Pair of Jeans, at Markup," in the Wall Street Journal, 29 May 2001.***
Levi's are an American icon; people of all ages, from countries as diverse as Japan, Russia, and the U.S. wear Levi's, buying them new or used. They are valued for both their enduring quality and wide array of designs.
Levi Strauss & Company was established in the 1850s in San Francisco, California, to sell the finest domestic and foreign dry goods, clothing, and household furnishings. Levi and his brothers Jonas and Louis as well as two brothers-in-law, William Sahlein and David Stern, ran the company. They had a ready market for their wares in the goldminers, cowboys, and lumberjacks, who had moved West to make their fortunes. Especially popular were the company's sturdy pants that stood up to the rugged work.
The pants were further improved thanks to Jacob W. Davis, a tailor who lived in Reno, Nevada. Davis sewed horse blankets, wagon covers, and tents from an off-white duck cloth bought from Levi Strauss & Co. He also made work clothes, though the miners and cowboys complained about pockets ripping off. As a result he tried riveting the pockets on the pants with the same copper rivets he used to attach straps to horse blankets. Davis made more riveted trousers using a 10-ounce duck twill and, by word-of-mouth advertising, a steady business grew.
Davis could not finance the patent necessary to protect his idea so he offered Levi Strauss & Co. half the right to sell all such riveted clothing in exchange for the $68 patent fee. The patent was granted to Davis and the Levi Strauss company on 20 May 1873. Levi Strauss & Co. soon made and marketed trousers, vests, and jackets using the rivets at stress points. White and brown duck twill and denim were used in the trousers Strauss called waist pantaloons or overalls, not "jeans."
The term jeans referred to trousers constructed from a fabric woven in Genoa, Italy, or "Genoese" cloth, while denim was derived from "serge de Nimes," or cloth from Nimes, France. The fabrics were all shrunk to fit as a snug fit was desirable because wrinkles caused blisters when riding in a saddle. Suspender buttons, two in back, and four in front were used. There were no belt loops, though cinch straps and a buckle were sewn onto the back of the trousers to tighten the waist.
Strict price and quality standards were established at Levi Strauss, and fabric was furnished by Amoskeag, a New England mill. Orange linen thread was used for stitching because it matched the copper color rivets, and two curving Vs were stitched on back pockets to distinguish the Levi pants from those of competitors (this arcing row of stitches, however, did not become a registered clothing trademark until 1942). An oilcloth guarantee with the "Two Horse Brand" was tacked to the seat of the trousers. It had an engraving of two teamsters whipping a pair of dray horses trying to pull apart riveted trousers.
In 1886 a leather label with the two horse logo was permanently affixed with orange linen thread, and due to the quality of manufacturing and fabric, Levi Strauss was able to charge more than its competitors. The original XX 10-ounce denim trousers were known as the 501, and became the hallmark to be measured against. Levi's, as they became known, were functional, simple and above all durable.
The company grew and evolved to meet changing economic and societal needs brought about by world wars, the Depression, and unionization of the labor force. Clothing was sized to fit children as well as women; linen thread was replaced with a fine gauge version of the cord used to stitch shoes to make seams stronger, belt loops replaced suspender buttons on the original 501 design, the cinch belt was removed, 13.5-ounce denim came into use, a zipper fly was introduced, preshrunk fabric became the norm, and the red Levi tag was added to further distinguish the jeans from the competition. New lines of more dressy yet casual clothes were also introduced, such as Dockers and Slates.
The mystique and marketability of Levi's received a boost throughout the 20th century when worn by men and women with high profiles. James Dean wore Levi's in Rebel Without a Cause, and Marlon Brando was similarly outfitted in the Wild One. Director Steven Spielberg and software mogul Bill Gates both appeared frequently in jeans, while the corporate world's casual Fridays and even former President Bill Clinton have given Levi's both exposure and status.
Yet during the 1990s the market was inundated by branded jeans, from popular designers such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana, Donna Karan, and many others, as well as store brands like Gap and Old Navy. Though Levi Strauss marketed a myriad of styles—from boot cut to flare to "loose" or wide-legged pants to stretch—distribution problems, discounters, and a weakened textile industry contributed to a serious loss in market share. To combat the slump, the company initiated a series of hip print and television ads, some with winning results. The introduction of the computerized Original Spin program in 1998, to help create the perfect custom-made pair of jeans, also brought a new market segment to the Levi's fold.
In the 21st century Levi's remain a staple in the wardrobes of many consumers worldwide, yet the company's overall sales and profits continued to slide. Japan and the U.S., once the company's strongest markets, were sadly lacking in 2000 and 2001. On a more positive note, the company acquired an original pair of work pants made in the early 1880s (probably sold for about $1 at the time) for more than $46,500 in 2001, from the eBay auction site. Additionally, the home of company founder Levi Strauss was restored and opened for touring in San Francisco.
The jeans of Levi Strauss & Co. will never go out of style and have achieved an iconic stature in the U.S. and around the world. For its part, the Levi Strauss company has created dozens of styles and variations of its stalwart products to transcend trends. More recent innovations included ergonomically engineered jeans as well as Levi's with built-in gadgets such as MP3 players and voice-activated cellular phones. Levi's—originally intended for use by goldminers and cowboys—have become an integral part of the American way of life. Yet as the world's number-one manufacturer of branded clothing, Levi Strauss is a name known and beloved in more than 80 countries.
updated by Owen James