As Levi Strauss & Co. Executive VP and chief operations officer, Liz O’Neill has navigated the production slowdowns, port shutdowns, inventory delays and rising logistics costs that have hobbled the industry over the course of the past two years. Despite these headwinds, the industry veteran, who has overseen operations for leading fashion firms like Gap, Inc. and Abercrombie & Fitch, is still sailing forward with confidence to meet the brand’s five-year, $10-billion revenue goal.
Responsible for sourcing, distribution, logistics and sustainability initiatives at Levi’s, O’Neill believes in a diversified sourcing strategy that preserves the brand’s competitive edge through unforeseen challenges. The company has manufacturing operations in 28 countries across the globe and, under her direction, is looking to expand. Meanwhile, a focus on digitization has bolstered supply chain agility and responsiveness to ensure “capacity, resilience and agility.”
O’Neill has led Levi’s to invest in robotics and automation to enhance its manufacturing capabilities, as well as digital product design and 3D-rendering to promote speed and efficiency. A well-oiled machine is more sustainable, she believes. The programs O’Neill has helped champion as chief operating officer support Levi’s social and ecological goals, reducing production waste, cutting carbon emissions, and limiting overproduction. O’Neill also leads companywide innovation, managing Levi’s internal start-ups and offsite design lab.
What do you wish more consumers knew about the jeans they buy?
How long they can last when they’re made the right way, and why they are worth keeping for as long as possible before handing down to others. Many people do know this; we hear from those people all the time. But we’re seeing every day how important the durability of apparel products is, so we’re going to keep hitting this point wherever we can (as with our Buy Better, Wear Longer campaign).
If you had one request for denim brands, what would that be?
We should collaborate more to tackle the challenges facing us all, especially around resource use and circularity.
What can other apparel categories learn from the denim industry?
Why durability is so important, to brands, to consumers, to communities, and to the planet. Products need to be built to last, and, going forward, they need to be designed and manufactured with re-use and circularity in mind, so we’re being as efficient as possible with any resources that we use.
What was your most recent denim purchase?
My last denim purchase was a pair of Levi’s destructed white 501s, perfect for summer.
What is your first denim memory?
Maybe not my first memory, but probably the most ironic: Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to wear jeans to school, so I wore them as much as possible everywhere else! I wonder if this sense of deprivation somehow drove me to this career and a lifetime love of denim?