August 28, 2006
Walmart and Levis
Some brands make me feel fascinated and furious at the same time.
Walmart is like that. One can’t help but be in awe of their logistical system; their staggering domination of fashion retail on this continent boggles the mind. This oldie but goodie that I stumbled across is a pretty compelling portrait of the behemoth.
The Levis story in the article embodies what drives me nuts about Levis – a once-great American company that has lost its authenticity. There is no reason why Levis shouldn’t still be popular – the 501 is an American classic that will never go out of style. The inheritors of the company have lost their focus – selling out to Walmart on one hand and chasing high-end collector-types on the other hand by co-opting Warhol. It seems to me that Levis core customers are neither Walmart shoppers or the ultra-fashionista – the true Levis customer craves the authenticity that Levis represented in the 1960s and 1970s. With the classic cuts are no longer available due to full-package outsourcing – Levis has lost their handle on what was once a truly great American brand. As quoted in the article – “if they stopped trying so hard to be cool, they might actually be more successful”.
I wonder what Warhol would have to say about Levis and Walmart.
He probably would have approved of his eponymous denims – Warhol could sell out with the best of them. But if Warhol was to select a image of a pair of denims for his own prints, I don’t think they would be the Warhol pair. He would have chosen the most iconic, most archetypal pair.
Levis can’t regain their icon status by printing even more iconography (Mao, dollar bills, etc.) on their jeans. The only way to do it is to recapture their authenticity – and it seems like it might be too late to do that. The reason people bought Levis was never because of the fancy marketing – and never because of the low price. It was always because Levi Strauss’ story represented the American ideal. Levis shouldn’t have to spend a cent on marketing their product – everyone already knows what it means (or what it should mean). I think that if Levis spent every marketing dollar on developing their products in North America, standardizing and perfecting the fit, and presenting the product honestly and simply without any extraneous jazz – they could stand a chance of recapturing some market attention.