Levi Strauss & Co.
Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&CO) is a privately held clothing company known worldwide for its Levi's brand of denim jeans. It was founded in 1853 when Levi Strauss came to San Francisco, California to open a west coast branch of his brothers' New York dry goods business. Although the company began producing denim overalls in the 1870s, modern jeans were not produced until the 1920s. The company briefly experimented (in the 1970s) with employee ownership and a public stock listing, but remains owned and controlled by descendants and relatives of Levi Strauss' four nephews.
Levi Strauss & Co., the world's largest brand-name apparel manufacturer, gave the world blue jeans and grew enormously rich on this piece of U.S. culture. Indeed, around the world the name of the company's founder has grown to be synonymous with the pants he invented: Levi's. Levi Strauss markets apparel in more than 60 countries, and it has 53 production facilities and 32 customer service centers in 49 countries. The company operates wholly owned businesses in most European countries, in South Africa, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, India, The Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and Argentina, and operates through joint ventures and licensing agreements in a host of other countries. Besides its well-known Levi's brand products, the company markets clothing and accessories under the brand names Dockers, Britannia, and Slates.
The company took on multi-billion dollar debt in February 1996 to help finance a series of leveraged stock buyouts among family members. Shares in Levi Strauss stock are not publicly traded; the firm is today owned almost entirely by indirect descendants and relatives of Levi Strauss, whose four nephews inherited the thriving San Francisco dry goods firm after their uncle's death in 1902. (Levi's bonds are traded publicly, as are shares of the company's Japan affiliate, Levi Strauss Japan K.K.)
In June 1996, the company offered to pay its workers an unusual dividend of up to $750 million in six years' time, having halted an employee stock plan at the time of the internal family buyout. The company failed to make cash flow targets, however, and no worker dividends were paid. In 2002, Levi Strauss began a close business collaboration with Wal-Mart, producing a special line of "Signature" jeans and other clothes for exclusive sale in Wal-Mart stores until 2006. Levi Strauss Signature jeans can now be purchased at Wal-Mart, KMart, Target, Pamida, Meijer, Orchard Supply Hardware Stores and ShopKo stores in US; Wal-Mart and Zellers in Canada and Jusco, Rapty, Cecile and Shop Channel Stores in Japan.
The company is now Wal-Mart's largest worldwide strategic partner, conforming to Wal-Mart's business and labor practices. Levi Strauss & Co. closed 58 U.S. manufacturing plants between 1981 and 1990, sending 25% of its sewing overseas. Levi's accelerated U.S. plant closings through the 1990s, closing its last U.S. domestic plant (in San Antonio, Texas) in January 2004.
According to the New York Times, Levi Strauss leads the apparel industry in trademark infringement cases, filing nearly 100 lawsuits against competitors since 2001. Most cases center on the alleged imitation of Levi's back pocket stitching pattern , a double arc. Levi's has sued Guess, Esprit, Zegna, Zumiez, and Lucky Brand, among other jeans manufacturers.
By 2007, Levi Strauss was again said to be profitable after declining sales in nine of the last ten years. Its total annual sales (of just over $4 billion) were $3 billion less than during its peak performance in the mid-1990s. After more than two decades of family ownership, rumors of a possible public stock offering were floated in the media in July 2007, although for now the company "will stay focused on boosting cash flow and further whittling down that debt."
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