It has been a stretch, but Levi’s is driv­ing back into the women’s mar­ket

The Cal­i­for­nia denim com­pany is go­ing retro into the fu­ture

The Australian - - LIFE - JA­COB GAL­LAGHER

To en­tice more women to buy its jeans, Levi’s is look­ing to the past and the fu­ture all at once.

Fol­low­ing a 2015 up­date of its women’s col­lec­tion, which in­cluded a re­fresh of fits and fab­ri­ca­tions, Levi Strauss & Co is div­ing into the white-hot vintage jean mar­ket with the global launch of Levi’s Au­tho­rized Vintage.

This col­lec­tion of 50,000 jeans from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, priced at $US300 ($393) a pair, aims to com­pete with pur­vey­ors who have made a killing sell­ing archival denim — much of it Levi’s. Both moves are in­tended to cat­a­pult Levi’s out of sev­eral years of stag­na­tion.

“We were sit­ting on an aged icon,” says James Curleigh, who was hired as Levi’s pres­i­dent five years ago.

Sil­hou­ettes were in need of up­dat­ing and the over­all col­lec­tion was lack­ing in vi­tal­ity, he says. He says Levi’s global busi­nesses were idling, with­out a fo­cused strat­egy, and it was slow to lever­age the surge in on­line shop­ping.

Levi’s re­vi­talised its e-com­merce busi­ness, in­vest­ing more sig­nif­i­cantly in over­seas mar­kets, par­tic­u­larly Europe.

It also put new em­pha­sis on ca­sual wear such as T-shirts, shorts and trucker jack­ets, which has boosted sales in that cat­e­gory by dou­ble dig­its. But en­tic­ing more women to buy Levi’s was crit­i­cal.

Blame it on yoga pants: once “ath­leisure” en­tered their vo­cab­u­lary dur­ing the past decade, women weren’t about to slip back into stiff skinny jeans. In 2015, Levi’s started quizzing women about their favourite pair of jeans.

“We learned how im­por­tant fab­ric was and how im­por­tant com­fort was,” says Karyn Hill­man, Levi’s chief prod­uct of­fi­cer. The com­pany be­gan weav­ing stretch into the jeans’ cot­ton. To­day, 80 per cent of Levi’s jeans con­tain stretch, in­clud­ing the 711, a 2 per cent stretch pair that has be­come the bedrock of a women’s line, which posted dou­ble-digit sales growth this past year.

When Jen Sey, Levi’s chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer, joined the com­pany 18 years ago, women made up 30 per cent of jeans cus­tomers. To­day, that num­ber is closer to 60 per cent.

Levi’s is ben­e­fit­ing from the rise in fe­male cus­tomers, rack­ing up four straight years of growth; third-quar­ter sales were up an­other 7 per cent.

Levi’s also has cap­i­talised on the broader cul­tural fo­cus on nos­tal­gia. “Levi’s is the core, pi­o­neer denim brand and peo­ple are re­ally at­tracted to that,” says Bloom­ing­dale fash­ion di­rec­tion vice-pres­i­dent Heather Shimokawa.

Millennial shop­pers in par­tic­u­lar are con­tribut­ing to a grow­ing vintage fash­ion trend, ac­cord­ing to Ayako Homma, a se­nior re­search an­a­lyst at Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional, a mar­ket re­search firm. “Jean com­pa­nies are us­ing vintage styles to at­tract con­sumers who are new to the brand,” she says.

Levi’s in­tro­duced the Wedgie, a high-rise jean rem­i­nis­cent of Char­lie’s An­gels- era hip-hug­gers, and a re­vi­talised 501, which has been in pro­duc­tion since 1873, with ta­pered and skinny it­er­a­tions that echo its iconic 70s and 80s style.

Cur­rent ad cam­paigns fea­ture jeans worn by clas­sic male rock­ers but mod­elled by con­tem­po­rary fe­male mu­si­cians such as Ali­cia Keys, Haim and Solange.

In­deed, Levi’s’ vintage ap­peal helped in­spire Re­Done, a three­year-old spe­cialty denim la­bel that tai­lors vintage men’s jeans to fit mod­ern women and sells for up­ward of $US300 at 350 stores in 27 coun­tries. But rather than send a cease and de­sist or­der, Levi’s saw an op­por­tu­nity. It be­gan its Autho- rized Vintage pro­gram in 2015, with Re­Done as the first ap­proved part­ner.

Last week, Au­tho­rized Vintage went global: at a trade show last year, Curleigh was ap­proached by a man claiming to have a col­lec­tion of vintage Levi’s. Not just a few pairs but a stash of more than 50,000 mostly US-made jeans. Levi’s scooped them up and will sell and tai­lor them at Levi’s re­tail out­lets na­tion­wide. The jeans will also be avail­able for de­signer part­ners such as Vir­gil Abloh of Of­fWhite and Diane Von Fursten­berg to re­cy­cle as part of fu­ture col­lab­o­ra­tions. Says Curleigh: “A pair of jeans that some­one bought 30 years ago for $US30 can now be worth $US300 be­cause there’s value in au­then­tic­ity.”

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