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Levi’s Chip Bergh Says We’re Beginning a New Denim Cycle

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The strategic actions Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) has taken during the pandemic are having a positive impact on revenue, and the company remains focused on the areas that it believes will drive value and enable it to emerge stronger on the other side.

The denim giant, however, is also benefiting from external trends beyond its control.

“We’re seeing a denim resurgence as more people are going out,” said Chip Bergh, LS&Co. president and CEO. “Consumers are eager to shop the brands they trust and love, while sticking to the more conscious consumption they embraced during the pandemic. These trends play to our strengths and are reflected in our strategies.”

Levi’s upcoming spring campaign, called “Buy Better, Wear Longer,” will reflect the brand’s enduring appeal with messaging shared across social media, in stores and online.

This denim resurgence—for both Levi’s and the industry as a whole, Bergh said—is being driven by the rollout of vaccinations and some semblance of normalcy returning, as well as interest in new looser and comfortable fits.

During the company’s Q1 2021 earnings call, Bergh said the category is entering a new denim cycle that he hasn’t seen in over a decade ago since the emergence of the skinny jean. In particular, the brand is having success with its High Loose jean—a fit that bowed in a range of jeans made in partnership with Swedish recycling textile technology startup Re:newcell, and has been incorporated into additional collections, including a collaboration with Ganni.

“We launched this high-rise loose fit in early 2020, just as the pandemic was happening, and it was a relatively small collection at first, and it really just took off,” Bergh said. “And so, we’ve expanded it and have continued to build on it. It’s now been followed by all of our key competitors.” These new silhouettes, he added, will continue to give consumers a reason to buy Levi’s as people emerge from the pandemic.

The brand still sells four bottoms for every top, though the category is seeing notable growth. Levi’s men’s bottoms business significantly strengthened, making it the best-performing segment in the first quarter. Sales for relaxed fits for men like the 550 and 559—two legacy fits that Levi’s considered discontinuing a couple of years ago—and the non-denim XX chino line were up more than 20 percent over the prior year.

“We are leading denim trends industry-wide and bringing innovative new products to market,” Bergh said.

Meanwhile, Levi’s also continues to be a popular brand partner for collaborations. Bergh said Levi’s had more than 10 different regional or global collaborations in Q1, including its first in the home category with Target. “I think it introduced the Target consumer to the Levi’s brand in a way that they had never expected before,” Bergh said about the one-off collection.

And more buzz-worthy collaborations are on the way, including its second with Valentino that is helping to premiumize Levi’s range.

Bergh said the brand is making 517 units of Levi’s Valentino Vintage 517 and 5,107 units of a re-edition of the 517, a replica of the original vintage 517 orange tab jeans. These unisex jeans will be adorned with co-branded patches and interiors denoting both Levi’s and  Valentino.

The $990 re-edition jean is now available for pre-order and will be sold at Saks, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf and Luisaviaroma. Bergh said Saks has already sold out its pre-order.

“[Collaborations] drive a lot of interest, but most of them are relatively small in terms of volume and revenue, but they just drive a ton of excitement and interest,” Bergh said.

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