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How Levi’s Blends Heritage and Innovation to Win Over New Customers, Former Fans

Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion—the velocity of an object changes when it is subjected to an external force—is arguably applicable to today’s retail environment and Levi’s is offsetting competition by leveraging innovation to accelerate consumer experiences.

At the “Learn from Levi’s: How the 150-year-old startup continues to transform its iconic brand,” panel during the NRF Big Show 2018 on Sunday, Levi’s president James Curleigh discussed how the denim giant is reinventing its iconic brand presence with collaborations, technology and consumer engagement efforts. By staying true to its heritage and pursuing new ventures, Levi’s can keep consumers coming back for more throughout retail’s uncertainty.

A few years ago, Levi’s came to NRF to discuss the potential challenges for Levi’s and how the brand was combating those challenges to remain a top lifestyle brand. Today, Levi’s is still committed to its roots, while driving innovation in the denim industry. Levi’s aims to be the most loved and most relevant brand, while creating legitimate lifestyle solutions, including smart denim jackets or tech development labs, to keep resonating with consumers’ wardrobes.

[Read more about retailers’ consumer engagement efforts: What Levi’s and Glossier Are Doing to Foster Better Consumer Connections]

Levi’s strategy has an essential top factor—the Levi’s customer. Curleigh noted the company is aiming to stay relevant to three different customers.

“Fans that know us and love us and never left us, we need to give them a reason to buy more jeans in the future. We also have a fan base that loves us, but left us for something else and another lifestyle solution,” Curleigh said. “The most exciting fan we have is the future fan, the fan that didn’t grow up with Levi’s, but fell in love with it.”

Levi’s is tapping into consumers’ styles with a combination of four essential principles—leveraging its core mission and icons, leaning on innovation, facilitating collaborations and creating value. By harnessing these essential principles, Levi’s can keep its existing consumer base, bring back those that love the brand and get the conversation going for new shoppers.

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Since its inception, Levi’s has a core mission of helping consumers worldwide find the perfect jeans fit. Its iconic design elements, including the button fly, the red tab and riveting have been incorporated into many varieties of Levi’s jeans. To maintain its denim authority and deliver on consumers’ expectations, Levi’s aims to combine iconic design and advanced features, including GPS navigation, into its products.

“We wanted to get out there and make the perfect pair of jeans. Levi’s has an obligation to protect our denim core and be a leader in the future,” Curleigh added. “When you look at the average person’s closet, they spend on average 5 percent to 7 percent of that on denim.”

Innovation also comes into play with Levi’s mission—and the company is currently pursing wearables and using its advanced technology lab to create jeans for future consumers.

Last year, Levi’s debuted its smart Commuter Trucker Jacket—a smart denim jacket developed with Jacquard by Google. The jacket enables consumers to stay connected to music and receive GPS navigation without complicating their drive, transit ride or walk to work. Levi’s wearables, including the Commuter Trucker Jacket, stem from its Eureka Innovation Lab—a hub created by the company in 2013 to create these advanced prototypes. The Lab continues to be a center of innovation for the brand, by combining design and digital to take denim to the next level.

Beyond its core mission, leveraging icons and tapping into innovation, Levi’s has teamed with key influencers to elevate its iconic denim presence and products. In October, the brand celebrated the 50th anniversary of its iconic 1967 70505 Type III Trucker jacket by collaborating with 50 influencers from around the world to create their own versions of the jacket. On Wednesday, Levi’s and the Jordan Brand are debuting the Jordan x Levi’s Air Jordan IV and Jordan Reversible Trucker Jacket, exclusive denim products that combine Levi’s iconic image with the Jordan Brand’s technical sport aesthetic. Levi’s expects further collaborations down the line as part of its great transformation strategy.

Creating value rounds out Levi’s branding agenda. By bringing together its core mission, leveraging icons, innovation and collaborations, Levi’s can maintain its historical stance and provide the denim that consumers desire for their unique lifestyles. By bringing new products to the table, including limited edition and wearable denim, Levi’s can provide that incentive for consumers to buy its products, regardless of where they fall on the consumer scale.

“At the end of the day, profitability absolutely matters, it’s our fuel for the future and our proof point that we are making progress,” Curleigh said. “What that’s done is give the confidence to ourselves that we can think bigger and become that iconic lifestyle iconic leader that we are, were in the past and will be in the future.”