Blog: Leonie BarrieRed tab blues

Leonie Barrie | 6 October 2003

Levi’s jeans seem to be fading in more ways then one after the iconic brand announced it is to close its North American manufacturing plants with the loss of nearly 2000 jobs.

On the face of it the jeans market is a hotbed of new fabric, styling and marketing ideas, which makes it hard to believe that Levi’s sales are struggling. But confronted by increasing competition and higher costs than its rivals, most of whom shifted their sourcing offshore years ago, Levi Strauss says the move is an inevitability of global economics and that it too must follow suit if it is to have a viable future. After all, by exiting from manufacturing it can now focus solely on design and marketing – the keys to its future success in a fickle, fast-moving market.

In a highly competitive industry such as this, few apparel brands today own and operate manufacturing facilities in North America. In fact, Levi’s is one of the last American jeans wear firms to turn its back on US production, and it should be commended for holding out longer than most before making a move which was ultimately inevitable.

It is also true to say that few items are as linked in the public's mind with being all-American. But what does this mean today? Many of the US’s low-tech manufacturing industries such as clothing have migrated to China and other countries with cheap labour and are now gone for good. So in this sense, perhaps Levi Strauss has become yet another metaphor for post-industrial USA.

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