When Levi’s announced last year that it would replace manual finishing with F.L.X. technology, the company’s digitized finishing solution to streamline the process through eco-friendly lasers, savvy denim heads knew that a new level of customization was just around the corner.
Levi’s executive vice president and president of direct-to-consumer, Marc Rosen, made it official Monday at Shoptalk in Las Vegas.
Starting this fall, Rosen said U.S. consumers will be able to go to Levi.com and design their own pair of jeans through the brand’s F.L.X. technology. The jeans will be produced and shipped from the company’s Sky Harbor distribution center in Henderson, Nev. and delivered to consumers’ homes in a matter of days.
“It’s different from anything we’ve done before,” Rosen said. “We’ve done customized T-shirts. We’ve done embroidery on our Trucker jackets, but this takes [personalization] to a whole new level.”
Consumers will be able to start with seven of Levi’s most popular fits, including the 501. From those seven fits, using a variety design combinations, they’ll be able to design over a thousand combinations of their own personalized jeans. Consumers can handpick their desired wash, the type of wear pattern, whether or not they want deconstruction and if so, where and what size. They can opt to over-dye their jeans in a myriad of colors like pink, black and green, and can choose from a select set of images and words to have etched on their jeans for further personalization.
From the crafted 501 jeans pictured at Woodstock in 1969, to the custom 501 shorts worn by Beyoncé during her 2018 Coachella set, self-expression has been at the center of brand since the very beginning. This next phase of customization, Rosen said, is deepening consumers’ connection with the brand. The power of self-expression is now in the hands of every shopper.
And the technology puts Levi’s business model at the axis of major transformation.
“It is now our denim and their design, but what it does for our business model is totally transform how we operate and gives us a whole new level of opportunity,” Rosen said. “When we think about what this transformation means to us, it is really a shift from selling what we make, to making what we sell. And that transforms every single part of our business model.”
Beginning with product development, Rosen says the company will shift its focus of providing a finished good to the consumer, to providing a blank canvas. This, he added, eliminates the risk that comes with designing for long lead times and consumers’ ever-changing tastes and needs. With the new F.L.X. technology, Levi’s can defer the decision about how it will finish products until later in the process.
“The implications of [how that will affect] inventory and supply chain are huge, but it also requires that we have the ability then to see what consumers are producing, to anticipate those trends, to react to that change and then to continue to produce product that responds to what they are designing,” he said.
The distribution center plays a pivotal role in the transformation of the Levi’s supply chain.
“It’s moving from traditional pick, pack and ship, to manufacturing because the distribution center is now storing that blank and the finish product is actually manufactured in the distribution center,” Rosen explained. “That’s a whole different level of skill set required in our distribution center.”
Customization will also alter Levi’s store designs. While the service will launch as online-only, Rosen said it will roll out across its brand stores for a seamless omnichannel experience.
The Tailor Shop, which traditionally fills a back corner of Levi’s stores and has been an area for alterations, is now moving to the center. Described as the “collaboration studio,” Rosen said the creative hub will become more important as tailors and store stylists help guide consumers with what they can create. And that hands-on experience will be translated to online, where consumers can view designs from other cities and choose which parts of those designs they want to incorporate into the jeans they are going to make, he added.
By putting the consumer in the driver’s seat, Rosen said Levi’s marketing efforts will be forced to change.
“It’s a shift from promoting product that we have and made a bet on too early and were maybe wrong about, to inspiring consumers with what they can create,” he said. Social media will be at the center, as well as visual search so consumers can see something, take a picture and recreate the look.
All these changes will be an evolution, Rosen says, but it’s fast moving. “If you stop and think about it, that is our total business model. That is turning our entire business inside out and transforming the way we operate.”
He added, “The 501 has stood the test of time, and with that so has the lessons we’ve learned about transformation. That’s been true over the last 165 years and it will continue to be true to over the next 165 years as we introduce the F.L.X. technology and allow consumers to customize their own product.”