A non-technical raving rant article (sorry). Though I suppose it could be translated into a “listen to your customers instead of spinning weird trends with the hipsters.”

Levi and Strauss CEO Chip Bergh seems to not like jeans or customers very much. In my opinion his recent advice to not wash your jeans feels very out of touch with the actual nature of Levi Strauss jeans and their customers. Levi’s 501s are my favorite jeans, I have worn them for years and continue to purchase them- so I feel qualified to have an opinion on them and how they are marketed.

CEO Chip Bergh is quoted as saying: “These jeans are maybe a year old and these have yet to see a washing machine.” For this quote to support the theory you that you may not need to wash your jeans “ever” (also in the article) we would need to additionally assume that one year is a significant fraction of the expected lifetime of a pair of Levi’s jeans. If jeans last 5 or more years then even a once of year washing schedule would yield 5 washings, many more than the quoted “if ever” washing schedule.

And that is my point. When I was younger Levi’s 501 jeans lasted a great number of years no matter how often you wore them or what you did to them (wore them every day, got them dirty, got them wet, got oil on them, washed them, and even threw them in the dryer). In my experience modern 501 jeans don’t last me 3 years (and that is with 3 pairs in rotation to lighten the wear). And by “don’t last” I don’t mean the subtle changes in the shading or patina that the jeans dilettantes seem to be talking about. I am talking about fraying, rips, and holes. Not stylish knee patches; but holes, gashes, and runs. I don’t know if the shorter lifespan is because you can’t wash them (which is very different than not needing to wash them) or they are doomed even when you don’t wash them (and throwing out 2 year old jeans is easier if they smell).

Levi and Strauss has for years projected a very out of touch and whiney public persona. They seem shocked that their stores never seemed as successful as Gap stores (and that Gap started making its own jeans). One reason Gap stores were so successful: “It originally sold everything that Levi Strauss & Co made in every style, size, and, color, and organized the stock by size” (from Wikipedia: Gap Inc.). This is something the Levi and Strauss stores I have visited do not do. As a further example let’s take a look at Levi’s 501s on Amazon (accepted as a fairly large internet retailer). 501s are only available with inseams from 29 inches and above. Which means (and this is probably why I am bitter) none of these jeans are short enough for 5’6” (or shorter) men (independent of waist size) unless you cuff the bottoms (which is not how the jeans are shown in the Amazon promotional photos).

Dear Levi and Strauss co.:

Levi’s 501s were the best valuable most durable jeans I found last time I comparison shopped (but that was a long time ago). 501s do not seem as durable as they once were, and I wonder if would actually come out on top in durability if I were to look again. 501’s are incredibly popular jeans, imagine how much more popular they would be if they actually fit the additional 10% of your potential adult male US customer base (those of us under 5’7”) (hey there is some free analytics/market-research for you). Also jeans should be able to survive washing (especially in a modern no-agitator washer). If this is a problem you may need to upgrade (or perhaps de-downgrade) the quality of denim you are using in your product (perhaps some tracking of your supplies and their practices would help there). You also may not want to shrink your market by targeting smelly hipsters to the exclusion of the rest of us.

Back to John Mount’s Fun Writing