Beyond the Brand: Levi’s
Written by: James Flynn
The numbers: Levi Strauss & Co basically invented jeans. In terms of an invention that has gone on to become part of pretty much everyone’s life – that is hard to beat.
What’s its history? It was founded in 1853 when a German Jewish immigrant by the name of Levi Strauss moved from Bavaria to San Francisco to open a branch of his brother’s dry goods business, which was then based in New York. What we now know as jeans were invented when a customer of Levi, Jacob Davis (another Jewish immigrant, from Latvia) had an idea to use copper rivets to reinforce the points of strain (such as on the pocket corners) in the trousers he made. Owing to a lack of funds required to purchase a patent, Davis wrote to Strauss suggesting that they go into business together. Levi accepted Jacob’s offer, and, on May 20, 1873, they obtained U.S. Patent 139,121. The manufacturing of Levi’s denim overalls began in the 1870s. The company created its first pair of its famous Levi’s 501 Jeans in the 1890s.
Any interesting facts: Loads. Levi Jeans as we know them emerged in the 1920s and were sold mainly to manual workers in the Western US. They gradually spread in popularity throughout America, and became prevalent within youth culture from the 1950 onwards, appealing to everyone from hippies to mods and rockers. The brand really took off during the 1960s and 1970s when clothing in general became more casual. The “stone washed” look came from the acquisition by Levi’s of a Canadian clothing company, and is still in use today. Levi’s protects its IP ferociously and has successfully sued, amongst others, Guess, Polo Ralph Lauren, Zenga, Esprit and Lucky Brand for infringement.
Nerd level: In 1946 the company had 15 salespeople and two plants. 30 years later it had 22,000 employees and 50 plants in 35 different countries. The company now has 16,000 staff and is worth approximately $5.2bn.
Did you know? The company was passed by Levi to his four nephews and remained in family ownership (apart from a brief foray on to the stock exchange in the 1970s) until its flotation in 2019.
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