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Retail’s Big Show 2015: Levi’s President Calls for a Retail Revolution through Innovation

Fri, Jan 23, 2015

Levi's at NRF 2015

Anyone can make a pair of blue jeans, but Levi’s made the first ever blue jean in 1873. The classic 501 button fly, five pocket blue jean with acute stitching has since become the ubiquitous uniform of many. From rural farmers to urban lawyers, and from models to housewives, the 501 fast became an essential must have garment of the ‘cool’, and was also named the fashion item of the 20th century by TIME magazine. 

Since the birth of the first pair of jeans, Levi’s has continued to inspire change in both the marketplace and the world. So it comes as no surprise that even today, Levi’s remains the world’s leader in denim wear. But what is it that keeps the President of this iconic brand, James Curleigh up at night? In short, it’s the idea of keeping a 161-year-old brand relevant in 2015.

Addressing an audience at NRF’s Big Show last week, Curleigh urged fashion brands looking to grow their business to continue to innovate and create a retail revolution if they want to remain relevant in an era of increased market competition.

Here are some thoughts shared during his keynote address: 

Focus on the Core, But do More: 

Protecting the profitable core is very real for any fashion brand, but whilst protecting the core, fashion brands must continue to expand for more. At Levi’s, the core is denim. But if you look at the average fan’s closet, denim makes up less than 10% of their total closet. As a legitimate lifestyle brand with 90% plus more opportunity, expanding for more was just the automatic logical thing to do, and that’s where Levi’s extensions come into play - belts, socks, t-shirts, leather jackets, and boots to name a few.  

Be Simple and Sophisticated: 

The brands that do it best have understood that simplicity on the front requires extreme complexity and sophistication behind the scenes. 

At Levi’s simplicity is a necessity. Picking out a pair of jeans should be easy, and when you find your fit, you should know if your size is going to be available. Visibility into data and inventory have to be aligned on the back end, in order to deliver simplicity on the front end.

Innovate Beyond your Iconic Status:

Yes, the original 501 will always be available, but what we were seeing was the really interesting trend where the next generation who is yet to get to know us and fall in love with us forever, loved the 501 – its authenticity, heritage and style- but they were taking it and customizing it for a more modern and relevant style.

What Levi’s do in response? The 501 CT (Customized & Tapered) jeans was launched in New York on 13th January 2015, and it’s one of the fastest rates of sale out of retail already, at a time when 90% of retailers are on sale.

Be Accessible & Aspirational: 

As brands it’s up to us to leverage access and provide aspiration. We’re doing this through the 501 CT jeans, known as Lot 1- made to measure, your personal patterns, and selection of denim threat count. A key motivational factor behind the new offering is to add an element of aspiration to the brand - taking it beyond just a pair of denims.

Access and aspiration is a key to success. Brands and retailers need to be both. Levi's has 2800 stores worldwide, 4800 other points of distribution and wholesale partners, and a website. Why now create aspiration by collaborating with other great partners?

In a couple of months in a well-known department store in the New York vicinity, fans will be able to go in and get a post purchased customized solution for their Levi’s jeans right there. Create aspiration by collaborating with other great partners.

Deliver the Expected & Bring the Unexpected:

Expected is providing high quality, great choice, continued solutions for our fans who know us and love us, bringing those fans who love us but left us, and for our new fans. But how do you deliver the unexpected?

Last year, Levi’s launched the Levi’s stadium in San Francisco. Would you have guessed a stadium on the cards? The thought behind it was that at every single stadium, whether it’s a sports event or a concert, a majority of fans wear jeans! Setting up a retail presence that can actually connect with fans was the main goal. Today, fans can shop for year round game day gear at the team store at the Levi’s Stadium.

Today, Levi’s finds itself at the intersection of old and new, striving to maintain a well-established brand and cultivate new fans - a generation raised on multiple choice, demand availability via digital channels, and unrestricted purchasing power. “The minute you don't give them that choice, they move on. It’s time for us, retailers, to drive forward, deliver the expected, bring the unexpected, and start changing the world” concluded Curleigh.

Check out the full keynote presentation below.