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Levi’s Continues Tech Boom with Record-Breaking Companywide Hackathon

Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) may be in the business of denim, but technology is what keeps it continuously pushing the boundaries of the industry. Embracing new technology helped the company overcome many of the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. It quickly built out e-commerce and omnichannel capabilities like curbside pickup, BOPIS, and shipping directly from stores, which helped the company bounce back from the initial financial hit.

Just last month, it extended its tech focus with the launch of an eight-week, fully paid Machine Learning Bootcamp to bring AI education to employees across departments. The program’s first cohort included 40 employees—63 percent of whom are female—from 14 locations around the world.

Even more recently, it organized a companywide, global hackathon with its biggest turnout yet. In a blog post, Levi Strauss & Co. chief financial officer Harmit Singh described the hackathon as a “powerful engine for idea generation” to better serve consumers. Though the company has organized three other hackathons in the past, this was the first to be held virtually, allowing it to expand territories and form a record 35 teams from 11 countries. Also for the first time in the company’s hackathon history, the event required two rounds: a qualifier and a final round.

“I was personally impressed by the level of creativity we saw from each of the teams this month,” Singh said in the post, addressing employees directly. “You are fostering our culture of innovation here at LS&Co., and I know you will continue to drive our digital transformation journey. I can’t wait to see the winning ideas become a reality.”

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Past hackathons have produced ideas such as chat bots and self-checkout—the latter of which is now being piloted in its Palo Alto, Calif., store. Consumers there can take advantage of a seamless shopping experience using the Levi’s mobile app to make their purchase and therefore skip the checkout line.

Hackathons are typically organized by companies looking for creative, technological solutions and inventions that can push their business forward. Most often, they’re confined to tech teams involved in computer programming, graphic design and user interface optimization.

The company’s C-suite has been especially vocal about Levi’s tech-heavy future. Chief AI Katia Walsh has even said that she believes AI can “save fashion.” While Levi’s is on a mission to democratize fashion, it’s also working to democratize machine learning, offering educational opportunities for teams in corporate as well as employees in stores and distribution centers, she said. Its new bootcamp has already proven successful, with graduates’ including a designer who is now able to digitally create garments, and a store manager who can use newly learned skills to predict what products to stock.