It’s the uniform of gold-miners, rock stars, cowboys and Hollywood heartthrobs and for Levi’s Global President James Curleigh, growing up in a “Levi’s family” meant he was the perfect fit for the brand all along.
Tell us about your earliest memory of Levi’s…
[Laughs] I’ve been living in Levi’s all my life. My mom always made sure we had Levi’s. I remember her saying, ‘I’d rather you have one pair of Levi’s than five other pairs of anything else.’
Entering your third year at the helm, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as Global President of the brand?
It’s probably less of a lesson but more of a revelation — just how many people love Levi’s and are willing it to win again. Obviously employees, but that includes competitors. I go to industry events and there’s a high level of respect and confidence that Levi’s will figure out the future for the industry and for denim and for those that love lifestyle.
Amidst the surge of new labels hitting the market, how has Levi’s defended its title as the worldwide leader in denim, and how will it continue to do so?
We invented the blue jean over 150 years ago and to this day we’ve never not been the worldwide leader in denim jeans. That’s through the iconic status of the 501. Through all the different generations it always maintained its relevance. From gold miners in 1873 through to 1969 at Woodstock, where we had about 97 per cent market share and the other three per cent were probably naked. Coming into this century 15 years ago, lots of denim brands show up, everyone has a five pocket jean with a rivet, with a leather patch or some sort of decoration on the back pockets, but the original is Levi’s. We were able to drive innovation through all sorts of fit, fabric and finish. We launched new collections, like Levi’s Vintage Clothing, Levi’s Made & Crafted and Levi’s Commuter series. What’s made us relevant all these years is balancing the iconic status and product we have with innovation for the future.
You’ve secured naming rights for the San Francisco 49ers new stadium in California. Denim and sport is an unusual combo. What was the thinking behind that?
I’ve been to thousands of sporting events and concerts around the world and there are way more fans in a stadium than athletes or musicians. And all those fans, the common denominator is 80 to 90 per cent of them, wear blue jeans. Everyone’s got their favourite pair of jeans on and a concert shirt or [shirt of the] sports team they love. So we just thought, ‘why not do something that makes a big league move, but also is very fan-based.’ Imagine a world where Levi’s is the unofficial fan brand and let the athletic brands take the field.
The final question — and this is a very important one — when was the last time you washed your favourite pair of Levi’s?
[Laughs] Even before I joined Levi’s… I’ve shrunk the fit in bathtubs and left blue stains in hotels or friend’s apartments or even my grandmother’s apartment. I put denim in my freezer – my LVC [Levi’s Vintage Collection], my vintage stuff’s never been washed – but last night I personally hand-washed my 501, white CTs. You’ll see them in Australia!
James Curleigh will speak at the coveted Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Business Seminar and Marketing Breakfast. Limited tickets available via ticketek.com.au or vamff.com.au.