It was interesting to see that Levi’s has stepped down from its self-styled stance of “owning” the denim market, and has now channelled its energies into winning over the youth market by updating its image (MW September 16).
But Levi’s seems to have overlooked the fact that the jeans market no longer has a clearly defined place in the retail sector. Jeans brands instead have to redefine the jeans category and reassess their role for today’s consumers, rather than relying on historical context.
In the past, denim signified rebellion and street-wise fashion. In the 90s, denim is one small part of a changing landscape – office workers are more casual, interactive entertainment or sports demand environment-resistant clothes, and international travel involves non-suited executives.
Levi’s, by pinning its hopes on the youth market and positioning its products alongside music and art, is merely focusing on a “lifestyle” image for one small sector of the denim-wearing market.
Levi’s is overlooking the new blurring of fashion and functionality, and by doing so may also alienate older consumers who would want to buy its products. Consumer segmentation studies show that marketers should target consumers not by age, but by their attitudes and what motivates them to buy a product. This is especially true in today’s climate, where no one can be seen as “typical”, and age is no longer a differentiator for the way you live or dress.
Jeans manufacturers are also facing the worrying fact that denim may have lost its cool, especially with young consumers. There is increasing competition from designer labels, own-label clothes, and new techno-fabrics on the market that are as hardwearing as denim, are water-resistant and breathable as well.
Although Levi’s may have been the marketing magicians of the past, the future business landscape will demand transparency in the way that companies operate. If consumers are not satisfied with the way a company runs itself, treats staff, or sources materials, they may boycott products altogether. Levi’s should take note. Simply revamping stores and bringing in new ranges may not be enough to save it this time.
Director of Marketing and Innovation
The Brand Futures Consultancy