At 168 years old, heritage denim brand Levi’s is still reaching “firsts.” This week, the company opened its first owned-and-operated store in Pakistan that’s staffed entirely by women. The store is located in Lahore, a city within the country’s Punjab province.
The opening is a win for Pakistani women, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit vulnerable demographics especially hard and exposed an increasing need to learn alternative work skills. According to Maha Butt, the new store’s manager, Levi’s launch helps open a new line of work for those most affected.
“This is a great initiative that heads in the right direction to break gender-based stereotypes and perspectives,” she said. “It’s great that we can showcase retail as a good and rewarding career option for women.”
One of the world’s largest sources of funding for developing countries, the World Bank Group reported that while women make up 48.5 percent of Pakistan’s population, only about 22 percent are employed. To close that gap, companies throughout the global denim supply chain launched targeted initiatives to support Pakistani women.
In March, Pakistan-based Artistic Milliners launched HERessentials, a pilot program that helps women working within its factories develop social and technical skills needed to respond to environmental and socioeconomic changes. The program is established by the same organizers of HERproject, a skills-building initiative that’s also garnered support from denim heavyweights including Levi’s.
The denim brand noted that it has more work to do to connect Pakistani women with employment opportunities. Currently, the company reports that 14 percent of women make up its Pakistani retail workforce. It aims to increase that number to 25 percent by the end of 2021, and up to 40 percent by the end of 2022. A second women-run store is slated to open in Karachi later this year.
“I am so excited about this amazing store from our team in Pakistan,” said Elizabeth A. Morrison, who joined Levi Strauss as chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer last year. “It builds on and challenges us to advocate for what’s right while capturing our renewed commitment to focusing on ‘our insides’ and our intention to create a company that mirrors our consumers and communities.”
The initiative is part of Levi’s greater commitment to having better representation throughout the company. Last June, it published its first-annual diversity report which showed that women make up 55 percent of the company’s corporate division and 58 percent of its retail segment, but the majority of management positions are fulfilled by men. Males make up 59 percent of leadership positions, which LS&Co. defines as the top 250 leaders in the company. Men fulfill 56 percent of executive management positions and 67 percent of LS&Co.’s board of directors.