By Ricardo Guzman
When the debate on denim jeans hygiene started, everyone laughed, yet this San Francisco-based company was focused on a strategy that is now making a difference.
After Levi Strauss & Co CEO Chip Bergh started the debate on hygienic household procedures, mainly on how often denim jeans should be washed, it became an instant trending topic.
With most of the people laughing and others becoming instant experts on jeans-hygiene, the Levi Strauss leadership was focused on something else.
The discussion on saving water was started by a company that was working flat out to reduce its environmental footprint, while everyone in San Francisco-based Levi Strauss was working on the strategy that would bring the firm to its current strong position.
In the first quarter of this year, Levi Strauss & Co. reported financial results that exceeded expectations, with net revenues of $1.6 billion, up 22% versus the same period 2021.
“We started the year with strong consumer demand and solid momentum across geographies, channels and categories,” said Chip in the release presenting the results. “The strength of our brands and strategy position us to deliver sustainable growth well into the future.”
And that future looks promising for a firm that owns brands like Levi’s, Dockers, Signature, Denizen and Beyond Yoga, which are sold in more than 110 countries. All those brands today are part of American culture and a legend for casual attire consumers.
With a growing base of consumers choosing to keep things cool away from the pre-pandemic business look, casual clothing firms have a good opportunity ahead.
“Today’s closets are bigger than the room I grew up in as a kid,” Chip said last April. According to him, during the pandemic consumers realized that they could buy less and buy better quality and more versatile products.
A COMMITMENT TO THE PLANET
The company last year published its first-ever sustainability report and also introduced a 100 percent recyclable version of its iconic 501 jeans. “We recognize that there are huge opportunities from a sustainability standpoint, and we try to drive them,” says Chip.
For the Levi Strauss CEO it is no secret that the apparel industry has a bad reputation. Products ending up in landfills, the use of some chemicals, and also excessive water needed for the old fashion production methods are driving companies to make a difference today.
“Sustainability has been a strategic issue for us. The young consumer in particular is really focused on this. If you ask a teenager today, they will very likely say climate change is top of mind in terms of their concerns,” says the executive, who was included in Fortune’s magazine 2019 ranking of the World’s Greatest Leaders.
The company’s stand on encouraging people to reduce their water consumption is aligned with other sustainable steps that include the innovative Water<Less program, by which it is possible to save up to 96 percent of the water used in the denim finishing process.
So, Chip’s famous statement that he does not wash his jeans unless absolutely necessary, was more than an afterthought. It was a call for the industry and consumers to join the growing team of organizations and individuals caring for our planet.
Earlier in April, Chip was among the honorees at the American Apparel & Footwear Association’s (AAFA) 2022 American Image Awards. After receiving the “Person of the Year” award from Jack Haddad at the New York City event, he discussed challenges and opportunities for the industry.
The Levi Strauss CEO said he feels optimistic since the company is the “strongest it has ever been,” thanks to the 16,000 global employees. “Seeing the team step up pushes me to be a better, more empathetic leader every single day. I can honestly say that I’m a different leader today than I was two years ago,” he insisted.
According to Chip, companies must prioritize sustainability, embrace digital technology, fix the supply chain and face the challenges created by the highest inflation levels seen in almost four decades.
During Chip’s tenure as president and CEO, Levi Strauss & Co has experienced a dramatic turnaround marked by outstanding performance. The company also returned to the public markets after a successful IPO in March 2019.