SAN FRANCISCO — Over the past several years, executives at Levi Strauss & Co. had noticed an odd pattern.
When they slipped into the office to get a little work done on the weekends, they’d often find clusters of tourists standing in the plaza outside the company’s Battery Street headquarters here, just looking around. On weekdays, they’d occasionally walk through the lobby and discover groups of Japanese tourists having their pictures taken under a large Levi’s banner.
It occurred to them that their building, a fixture in this town for 150 years, had become a stop on the tourist trail. The only problem was that, for the casual visitor, there was nothing to see except for a few plaques in the lobby.
That is set to change Friday when the company opens an 8,000-square-foot visitors center and museum in the glassed-in lobby of its main headquarters building. Six pavilions featuring signs, clothing and video at the museum tell the story of the company’s founding as a dry goods wholesaler, its invention of blue jeans and its rise into a global marketing powerhouse.
The pavilions cover aspects of Levi’s history and culture. Among the highlights:
"Back to the Future" covers key milestones in the company’s history and puts them in the context of world events on a time line. This pavilion features a 19th-century Singer sewing machine once used in a Levi’s factory, as well as the Flat Eric doll the company used in advertising in the 1990s.
"Product Innovations" showcases historic garments from Levi’s extensive archive. The initial exhibit includes a battered pair of 1880s Levi’s that were recovered from a mine, the original "Docker" khakis introduced in Japan in 1985 (which spawned the company’s Dockers line in the U.S.) and one of the warmup suits Levi’s made for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, which features a pocket arcuate and Red Tab, though the pants are made of terry cloth.
"Dear Levi" features dozens of letters the company has received from consumers over the years, including tales of laborers who avoided injuries because of their sturdy Levi’s and one disturbing account of an American man who spent 109 days in a Cuban prison and later wrote the company to report that his Sta-Prest pants kept their crease throughout his ordeal, even though he had to kneel the entire time. It also has a letter box allowing consumers to report their current experiences with Levi’s."Brand Builders" is a look at the history of the company’s advertising, from its earliest pitches to miners to the recent campaign for Engineered Jeans.
"Latest & Greatest" will feature whatever products for which the company is currently focusing its promotion efforts. The initial display features Type One jeans.
"Profits Through Principles" details the activities of the Levi Strauss Foundation and also outlines the company’s position on ethical conduct and social responsibility.
The museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. It is being unveiled to members of the press and Levi’s employees today and will open to the public on Friday.
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