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Levi’s Sourcing VP Talks Supply Chain Strategies

As the apparel sourcing landscape continues to shift amid rising costs, increased demand for compliance and an overall need to streamline supply chains, some executives have found industry best practices to keep up with the market changes.

Levi Strauss & Co.’s vice president of global supply chain product development and sourcing Bryan Riviere, spoke with Sourcing Journal about strategies that have worked for him, and offered some insight into Levi’s successes.

SJ: As more and more brands look to shrink their supply chains, what do you feel are the benefits of meaning more to fewer vendors?

BR: “Working with fewer vendors means that as a company you mean more to (and as such have greater influence with) your vendor. By working more strategically on vendor selection and focusing on a fewer, more meaningful vendor partnerships, you create mutually beneficial relationships. These relationships drive and accelerate collaboration on innovation and sustainability investment, improved ways of working, and resulting efficiency and cost benefit. And vendors want to collaborate with their customers (the companies). They want to know and understand our product and growth strategy so that they can align theirs accordingly in helping us achieve our goals, which in turn helps the vendors achieve their plan as well. Conversely, when you don’t mean as much to a vendor (eg: when you’re a small percentage of their business), the value-added activities — like innovation or sustainability compliance — don’t get the emphasis they deserve, which should be a top priority for the industry.”

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SJ: Would brands be better served to build their supply chain strategies around vendors, or around countries/regions?

BR: “To me, it’s not about where, it’s about who. Who are the “best-in-class vendors” that can be your strategic partners? Once these vendors are identified, then we collaborate on the best manufacturing locations that support our global product needs. If you find the right partner, you can figure out the right location. It’s about who you work with first, the where comes later. Of course, the non-negotiables of on-time delivery, sustainability compliance, cost and quality, etc. are always key considerations throughout the process.”

SJ: You’ve said you don’t operate by thinking of the “next best place to source.” Why is that?

BR: “It comes down to finding the right partner. We [Levi’s] then use our collective expertise to strategically determine the best manufacturing locations.”

SJ: How important is compliance to sourcing?

BR: “What keeps me awake at night is the same thing that wakes me up in the morning. It’s the idea that together as an industry, we can make a difference. Those who are charged with sourcing responsibilities don’t just have a responsibility to the company, but also have a responsibility to those who work in our vendor partner factories. We have the decision rights — and those are powerful. We can help influence the life of a factory worker by being committed to our health and safety standards and imparting those on the vendors we work with.”

SJ: You have said you like vendors to have a “Make-Bryan-Sleep-Well-at-Night Strategy.” How do they achieve this? What do you expect from your vendors?

BR: “For me, it’s all about quality, commitment to sustainability, compliance with our standards and strategic collaboration for growth. And the product has to arrive when and where we need it so we can continue to delight and inspire our consumers. It goes back to finding the right partner and being selective. If you have a stake in the vendors you’re working with, they’ll make all of your priorities their priorities so you can collaborate and win together. That’s what makes Bryan sleep well at night.

We look for partners who are interested in working in new, innovative ways to find more sustainable solutions. Take our work with one supplier in China for example. Just last year, we developed the first standard for water recycling and reuse in the apparel industry and we worked with that supplier to set up a system that can produce high-quality products using 100 percent recycled water. As a result, we made 100,000 pairs of Levi’s women jeans with recycled water. Our goal is to scale this innovative process to many of our wet finishing suppliers and collections. It’s this type of willingness to try new things, and this type of interest in sustainable business that we look for in partners.”

SJ: What are the most important things sourcing executives can do to stay successful in their roles and maintain a brand’s good name?

BR: “For a sourcing executive, or anyone for that matter, it’s about doing the right thing. A brand’s reputation, from a sourcing point of view, I feel comes down to building quality product in a quality environment. We believe that workers making our products should be provided with a safe, healthy workplace, and be treated with dignity and respect. Also, and I can’t emphasize this enough, get out of your corporate office. Go to the factories — see the people who make your products, gain credibility and understand what their day looks like. Educate them about your brand, not just the products but your values, your heritage. Meet them on their own turf and break bread with them. The horsepower you gain by being more to your vendor than just the person who writes the orders is unmeasurable.”

SJ: With regard to Levi’s, how has your sourcing matrix changed over the years? As input costs continue to rise, how are your sourcing destinations changing?

BR: “It’s really been focused on partnering more closely with our vendor community so we can unlock our collective value. Doing things smarter; doing things leaner. Being more agile and faster. Looking for efficiencies and thinking like a 160-year-old start-up. The benefits of thinking like a 160-year-old start-up are really endless. We are interacting with our suppliers in more efficient ways and this enables faster decision making. We are looking at eliminating redundancies and non-value add activities. We are focusing on driving decision making closer to where the activity happens — in the field with our suppliers.”

SJ: What types of technology has Levi’s implemented to enhance its supply chain and speed to market?

BR: “Among other key investments, we’ve recently implemented a new product lifecycle management system aimed at enhancing our integrated product design and development process. PLM is allowing us to consolidate our material libraries, work with one version of the truth, enhance tech pack/BOM activities and eliminate the need for workarounds and separate excel spreadsheets.”

SJ: Did we miss anything?

BR: “In today’s manufacturing environment of being more efficient while increasing productivity, successful strategic vendor partnerships are all the more important. And then of course, it comes down to execution. Find the right partners, work collaboratively and then get the job done. And never lose sight of your consumer.”