#WRC2019: Levi’s feeds growing appetite for customisation

Long established fashion brand Levi’s is calling on its rich heritage to help it navigate

through the present day’s challenges around personalisation, customisation and sustainability

Speaking at World Retail Congress in Amsterdam Marc Rosen, exec VP and president of DTC (direct-to-consumer) at Levi’s, cited the company’s original founding on the basis of the innovation of the rivet to hold the material together on jeans that its gold rush miner customers were complaining was falling apart. It focused solely on this innovative product and built its market proposition around it.

Rosen suggested that this focus on the consumer need, product innovation, and new business model creation very much resonates with the company’s current challenges in a market that he says involves “consumers changing faster than ever and technology advancing faster than ever”.

A component of this is the current wave of consumer demand for personalisation, customisation and sustainability. “In the 1970s the consumer customised products themselves...whereas nowadays we use technology to take customisation to scale,” said Rosen, adding that people are so demanding today that they want to actually design their own products and create something truly unique. 

To satisfy this appetite Levi’s set up its ‘Eureka Innovation Lab’ in San Francisco with a focus on driving innovations in fabric and sustainability including a desire to reduce the water and chemical formulations in its fabrics. “This led to a whole new finish process with lasers eliminating many of the chemicals used,” explained Rosen.

This has resulted in a whole new operational model for Levi’s that involves the ability to defer the finish of products until much later in the production process: “We’re effectively producing ‘blanks’ that allow the customer to decide how they want the finish on the products. We’ve evolved the business model to take advantage of this and moved from selling what we make to making what we sell. It has changed the whole model.”

By deferring the finish until the warehouse he says “the impact on the supply chain is massive”.

“From fall in the US customers will be able to choose what they want – the colour, where to have whiskering and the level of destruction on the products. With the lasers now in the warehouse they move from being about pick & pack to being production factories. And the stores are no longer product showrooms for finished goods but are collaboration studios,” he said. 

With this fundamental change in the Levi’s model Rosen suggests there will now be a shift in the way the company undertakes its marketing with the traditional promotion and clearing of products being replaced by a move to inspire customers. “We’re using social platforms - like Pinterest - to get inspiration and to then get these ideas out to our customers,” he added.

Although the company will continue to sell its standard items to shopper who, say want a pair of 501 stonewash jeans, the hope is that these customers will ultimately follow those who are customising and designing their products.

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