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Hong Kong’s First Denim Festival Put the History of Levi’s on Display

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The first ever Hong Kong Denim Festival (HKDF) was founded by the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI) to raise the vocational aptitude of local denim designers and professionals—and it may also have helped give Levi’s a wider platform in Asia.

The brand boasted both an indoor and an outdoor booth at the festival, which can best be described as a three-week-long crash course on denim culture and production organized by HKDI and Hong Kong’s Vocational Training Council.

“HKDF will become an iconic art and design event that unites the local denim industry, derives new directions by drawing design experts regionally and internationally [and will become] a nurturing ground for denim design visionaries,” organizers said about the festival’s future.

Outdoors, Levi’s ran a denim customization lab inside of a silver Airstream trailer amid a collection of food and art booths while, nearby, denim artists plied their trade to festival visitors.

Indoors, attendees had access to a first-class tour of the history of Levi’s and denim, in general. Exhibitions and seminars were held regularly throughout the festival but the brand’s showroom was defined by the four antique Levi’s that it put on display for interested festival-goers. None more impressive than “The Nevada Jeans,” a pair of Levi’s manufactured in 1880 that predate the belt loop.

“The Nevada Jeans” are one of the world’s oldest pairs of jeans and is still in remarkable condition.

The display also included “The Homer,” a pair worn by a miner in 1917, a pair belonging to Steve Jobs and Doug Hansen’s own pair of bell-bottoms inspired by hippie culture and customized in the 1970s.

Levi’s hoped its exhibits would tap into the enthusiasm it sees in the Asian market for Western styles, and predicted that the sector would soon expand in China. In a blog post highlighting the brand’s efforts at the festival, Levi’s mentioned the many Hong Kong-based “denimheads” that had attended the festival. Although these fans are certainly not typical (one of Hong Kong’s biggest denim enthusiasts, King Chung, wore a replica of The Nevada Jeans to the festival and owns Albert Einstein’s leather Levi’s jacket), the brand feels that it has a role as a primary denim influence in one of Asia’s most influential city centers.

“The earliest Levi’s sales in Hong Kong trace back to WWII where Levi’s jeans were sold in exchange stores on military bases,” the brand explained. “By 1965, the company set up a sales office in Hong Kong, the same year it established its international division, and began opening factories to manufacture Levi’s clothing. Today, Hong Kong remains an important market for Levi’s in Asia.”

Local denim brands were also in attendance, and international organizations like Cotton USA and Crystal Denim reportedly focused on sustainable denim production practices. Art exhibits gave denim artists from across the world a chance to show off their work and student designs from HKDI were on display for some of the most influential denim brands to see.

Ahead of a reported IPO, Levi’s has made some dramatic investments in its brand, including a brand new flagship in the heart of Manhattan and a new licensing deal with Safilo, an eyewear brand with a worldwide market presence.

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