A Letter to the President of Levi’s

by / Thursday, 24 October 2013 / Published in Strategy
In September, I saw James Curleigh, the EVP and President of Levi’s speak. He opened with a roaring rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. The song ended with his back to the crowd, his fist in the air and the attention of the crowd on Bruce’s famous pose.

That is, if you are old enough to remember Springsteen. Or album covers. Which was Curleigh’s point.

People used to raise lighters at Bruce concerts. Now they raise cell phones. In 1984, Levi’s rode the wave of a best-selling album, spending zero marketing dollars. Think Bruce would do that for free again now? Times have changed. And so has the denim market.

WW1. WW2. Hollywood. James Dean. Woodstock. The Berlin Wall. Curleigh described these events as the edge of the modern frontier. Levi’s had a presence at all of them. In fact, everyone loves Levi’s. But that doesn’t mean they’re buying.

Curleigh posed questions: How do we make Levi’s relevant? Where is the edge of the modern frontier today? What do you do when there is no longer one edge? How do you turn brand love into brand buyers? These questions have been on my mind ever since.

So below is my letter to the President of Levi’s. I was going to send the letter in private but why not go for(th) it. The edge of the modern frontier is open, so my letter is as well.

My letter…

Dear Mr. Curleigh,

Have you ever been in a New Jersey bar when Bruce Springsteen comes on the jukebox? Pure awesomeness ensues. Bruce conjures up America, blue collar strength, good people, rock and roll…and Levi’s.

Your presentation that used this as your starting point has been on my mind. Specifically I think about it twice a day when I bike past your Market St. flagship store. Where is the edge of the modern frontier? The many edges?

[For the record, the neon sign in the window that says “The Future is Leaving” freaks me out a little. I don’t want to miss that train.]

You and your colleagues have strategies and solutions in place for the questions you asked at that conference. I geek out though on challenges like the ones you posed. So here goes.

There are four main things I think.

1. It’s less of a movement. It’s more of a mindset: I think we all have our own modern frontiers. Maybe massive movements are now made of mini-movements. What if the frontiers and edges Levi’s celebrated were at the individual level?

Relatable. Believable. Human. Aspirational. Attainable. And awesome.

I’m talking about a focus that gives back the love that Levi’s gets from people who love Levi’s. A focus on, and love for, the people who do amazing things in your jeans. Actually, a focus on the amazing people who do amazing things in your amazing jeans.

2. There’s a gap between me and the modern frontier: The modern frontier is exciting. It also sounds intimidating. I want in but I fear I’m looking at it from afar. Is Levi’s offering an invitation or is the movement passing me by?

What I really want is to wear the love I have for Levi’s on my legs. This love comes in a pair of your crafted, any occasion, comfortable, make my bum look good, fits so right, go-to Levi’s. Great jeans (with the history to prove it). And hot damn if others on the cutting edge are wearing them too.

Yes a sample size of one is silly. Especially when I’m not your core target audience. But is there a hint of something in here?

3. There is a sweet spot in second hand: You shared that Levi’s is #1 in market share when it comes to used clothes. What about owning a piece of this? I love used bookstores. But authors don’t see any of the money made in them. What if you established a digital marketplace for buying and trading Levi’s?

I get the need to focus on your core business, concern about undermining your distributors or new sales and a caution around second hand goods. But it’s happening anyway. There has to be a way to piggyback on the power this holds.

4. Unexpected partnerships (+ product extensions) are fantastic: Levi’s creating a performance product line and partnering with REI and Nike to sell it is flat out fantastic.

Your final slide showing the Nike and Levi’s logos is burned on my brain. That’s the stuff of big idea business and misguided tattoos. These moves are the open API of the apparel business. Kudos. So very nice.

Okay one more thing while I’m at it, why is the absolute coolest stuff affiliated with Levi’s in a place in your headquarters called “The Vault?” Please unlock that stuff. Unleash it. Share it with those of us who love Levi’s (and also buy Levi’s). As you know, there are a LOT of us.

Bottom line: Thank you for your presentation, the challenges you issued and for making my mind race. Fun.

Cheering you and Levi’s on, Amy

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