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 in Brussels; 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,
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
Great Western Garment Co. (GWG), a Canadian
clothing manufacturer, acquired by Levi's. GWG was
responsible for the introduction of the modern
technique, still in use by Levi Strauss.
Mr. Simpkins is credited with the company's record
paced expansion of its manufacturing capacity from
fewer than 16 plants to more than 63 plants nationwide
from 1964 through 1974. Perhaps most impressive,
however, was that 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 into its press plants, which were known
in the industry to be notoriously hot, for the comfort
of Levi's workers.
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.
Dockers was launched
in 1986. 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 brand in 2004 to relieve part of the
company's $2 billion outstanding debt.
Launched in 2003, Levi Strauss Signature features
jeanswear and casualwear. In November 2007,
Levi's released a mobile phone in co-operation with
ModeLabs. Many of the phone's cosmetic attributes
are customisable at the point of purchase.
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
20, 1873, the two men received 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.
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 1930's, 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, including
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 still sell very well.
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,
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. In 1991, Levi Strauss faced a scandal
involving six subsidiary factories on the Northern
Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth, where some 3%
of Levi's jeans sold annually with the Made in
the USA label were shown to have been made by
Chinese laborers under what the United States Department
of Labor called "slavelike" conditions.
Cited for sub-minimum wages, seven-day work weeks
with 12-hour shifts, poor living conditions and
Tan Holdings Corporation, Levi Strauss' Marianas
subcontractor, paid what were then the largest fines
in US labor history, distributing more than $9 million
in restitution to some 1,200 employees. Levi
Strauss claimed no knowledge of the offenses, then
severed ties to the Tan family and instituted labor
reforms and inspection practices in its offshore
The activist group Fuerza Unida (United Force) was
formed following the January 1990 closure of a plant
in San Antonio, Texas, in which 1,150 seamstresses
Latinas) — some of whom had worked for Levi
Strauss for decades — saw their jobs exported to
Costa Rica. During the mid and late 1990s, Fuerza
Unida picketed the Levi Strauss headquarters in
San Francisco and staged hunger strikes and
sit-ins in protest of the company's labor policies.
The company took on multi-billion dollar debt in
February 1996 to help finance a series of leveraged
stock buyouts among family members. Shares in Levi
Strauss stock are not publicly traded; 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.
In June 1996, the company offered to pay its workers
an unusual dividend of up to $750 million in six
years' time, having halted an employee stock plan
at the time of the internal family buyout. However,
the company failed to make cash flow targets, and
no worker dividends were paid. In 2002, Levi
Strauss began a close business collaboration with
Wal-Mart, producing a special line of "Signature"
jeans and other clothes for exclusive sale in Wal-Mart
stores until 2006. Levi Strauss Signature
jeans can now be purchased at several stores in
the US, Canada, India and Japan.
According to the New York Times, Levi Strauss
leads the apparel industry in trademark infringement
cases, filing nearly 100 lawsuits against competitors
since 2001. Most cases center on the alleged imitation
of Levi's back pocket double arc stitching pattern
(U.S. trademark #1,139,254). Levi's has sued
Lucky Brand Jeans,
among other companies.
By 2007, Levi Strauss was again said to be profitable
after declining sales in nine of the previous ten
years. Its total annual sales, of just over $4 billion,
were $3 billion less than during its peak performance
in the mid 1990s. After more than two decades of
family ownership, rumors of a possible public stock
offering were floated in the media in July 2007.