Levi Strauss & Co. recently delivered its fourth straight quarter of revenue growth on the strength of its signature brand. That’s no small feat in the current tumultuous retail environment, even for a brand that has been in existence for as long as Levi’s.
“We have been around for 165 years and one of my biggest responsibilities is to make sure that we’re around for another 165,” said president and CEO Chip Bergh.
Much of Levi’s longevity is owed to the company’s willingness to invest in innovation and a culture that fosters creativity and experimentation. Under Bergh’s leadership, the brand launched the Eureka Innovation Lab, a San Francisco-based denim innovation center where its R&D team researches, develops and prototypes new fabric technologies.
The brand also launched the Collaboratory, a program that culls innovators in a variety of fields to help create sustainable solutions for the apparel and jeanswear industries.
Recently, LS&Co. rolled out F.L.X. technology, its laser-based solution to speed up (and clean up) its finishing process. The company also has set out to achieve aggressive sustainability goals for 2025—a continuation of the goals it set (and has already met) for 2020.
“I like to say that innovation is our lifeblood,” Bergh said. “From the moment we invented the blue jean to the opening of our Eureka Innovation Lab, it’s what has kept us at the center of culture for so many generations.”
Here, Bergh shares with Rivet four qualities key to Levi’s longevity and success as an innovative leader in the denim space:
Put the consumer first.
While this may sound basic, Bergh said you’d be surprised how often this falls by the wayside. “One of the reasons LS&Co. struggled for so many years was because the company had lost sight of the consumer. So, I’ve worked very hard to change that—and it shows up in everything we do—from how we advertise to how we engage consumers in our stores.”
Having a strategy isn’t enough. A company must be motivated to execute it. “I like to say that passion is worth 10 index points—and so culture is something I’ve been focused on since I joined,” Bergh said. “We’re moving in the right direction and our results demonstrate the level of performance and engagement we’re delivering as a team.”
Don’t stop innovating.
“Levi’s was founded on an innovation—and one of the first investments I made as CEO was in our Eureka Innovation Lab, because I saw the value of innovation to both our culture and our ability to lead the industry,” Bergh said. “From our collaboration with Google on the connected trucker jacket to Project F.L.X.—we are epitomizing ‘the 4th Industrial Revolution meets the centuries-old apparel industry.’”
Live your values.
This characteristic of a successful company, Bergh said, is arguably the most important. “I like to say that how we do things is just as important as what we do. And so living the values is critical, especially as a CEO in today’s world.”
Read more about Chip Bergh on the Rivet 50, an index of the most influential leaders in the blue world.