Levi Strauss & Co: The Beginnings of a Modern Day Heritage Brand

Levis Logo

This article was written by Vicki Power on behalf of House of Fraser. House of Fraser is a premium department store based in the UK and a stockist of Levi Strauss & Co clothing and accessories.

 

Fashion is an ever changing industry but once in a while there is an item, a trend, a style that just won’t go away – The blue jean is that item.

Levi Strauss invented the blue jean and his journey remains one of the most inspirational stories within the fashion industry. Not only was Levi an excellent business man who saw an opportunity and took it, he and his company have implemented policies that were far ahead of their time and remain one of the most highly respected business practices in the industry.

To this day the Levi brand is recognized around the world and continues to be sold globally on a massive scale.

Before the blue jean

In 1847, when Levi Strauss was 18, he moved with his mother and two sisters from Germany to the US to join his older brothers who were living in NYC and running a successful wholesale dry goods business.

 

Levi-Strauss

Levi Strauss

 

The Beginning of Levi Strauss & Co

From a young age Levi was a risk taker and at the age of 23 he moved to San Francisco. The Gold Rush had caused 300,000 people to relocate to San Francisco and Levi saw this as an opportunity to set up his own store. This was the beginning of Levi Strauss & Co.

Levi Strauss & Co began selling wholesale dry goods such as clothing, canvas, umbrellas and bedding to local stores in the area whose customers were the gold prospectors.

Entering into the Apparel Industry

In 1872 Levi was contacted by Mr Davis; a tailor from Reno who bought his fabric from Levi Strauss & Co. Mr Davis was looking for a partner to help him patent his revolutionary idea that would strengthen the pockets of work trousers using copper rivets.

Levi was a business man with little or no knowledge of the clothing industry, Mr. Davis was a tailor with little or no business knowledge. Levi took a risk partnering with Mr. Davis, and in 1873 they were awarded the patent for the copper rivets.

 

Levi's_506_Front_Pocket

The revolutionary pockets with rivets

Waist Overalls

Levi Strauss & Co began selling denim work pants, known as waist overalls, with reinforced rivets on the pockets to prevent them from ripping when laden with gold.

Mr. Davis relocated from Reno to San Francisco in 1880 as the demand for the waist overall was so high that hand-made production could no longer keep up and the first Levi Strauss & Co factory was opened.

Levi Strauss’ Will

Prior to his death in 1902, Levi sponsored 28 scholarships to the University of California-Berkeley, which are still in place today. He was a philanthropist, heavily involved in many charities and he set clear instructions in his will that Levi Strauss & Co continued this support after his death.

Levi Strauss & Co after Levi Strauss

The 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco damaged the factory and headquarters. All employees continued to be paid their full salary and after a number of months a temporary factory and showroom were set up and work restarted.

In 1926, employees at the Valencia Street factory were awarded bonuses, which at the time was unheard of in the apparel industry.

The depression struck in the 1930s and demand for workwear decreased. As a way of preventing lay-offs, staff were given alternative non-manufacturing jobs such as relaying the hardwood floor in the factory, while production levels were low. By doing this the company retained a highly skilled and happy workforce who were ready to restart manufacturing as soon as the demand for workwear increased.

Levis-Jean-Campaign

Modern day Levi Strauss & Co

Through the year’s one of the main things that stand out is the value and emphasis placed on employees at Levi Strauss & Co and the realization that a highly skilled and fully trained workforce was the most valuable asset a business has.

Some examples of the value placed on his staff are listed below:

  • The Red Tab Foundation was set up to help Levi Strauss & Co employees in retirement
  • Levi Strauss & Co Became the first corporation to provide HIV and AIDS tests and education for employees and their families
  • They developed one of the first known comprehensive standard of practice for manufacturing contractors which included wages, conditions of work, ethics and the working environment
  • Levi Strauss & Co became the first US corporation to offer employees and their families, including unmarried partners, medical benefits

Levi took a number of risks early in his career, but they were all smart, which resulted in his small wholesale dry goods business propelling into the apparel industry and becoming one of the most successful businesses of all time.

To learn more about the inspirational story of Levi and Levi Strauss & Co click here.

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