When assessing the strength of Levi Strauss & Co., Chip Bergh takes the broad view — looking not just at the company’s sales, but also the cultural relevancy of its namesake brand.
And the chief executive officer likes what he sees on both fronts.
In an interview with WWD, Bergh pointed to solid third-quarter results that led to an increase in the company’s annual sales forecast, a collaboration with Google that just produced an ultrahigh-tech trucker jacket and some gentle ribbing for Levi’s from “Saturday Night Live.”
Last month, SNL aired a skit featuring Ryan Gosling in Levi’s “Wokes,” jeans that are not only gender non-conforming, but sizeless and “style-neutral.”
“’SNL’ has parodied four of five of the brands I’ve worked on,” said Procter & Gamble veteran Bergh, who pointed to Gillette, Swiffer and Mr. Clean. “Every single time, without exception, when ‘SNL’ pokes fun at your brand, it’s a good thing for your brand — it says you’re important.”
The brand has also bolstered its profile by doing collaborations, like the Project Jacquard trucker jacket with Google, or its link up with high-end skater brand Supreme (which is having its own moment with new investor Carlyle).
“This brand is at its best when we are at the center of culture,” said Bergh, who referred to the 163-year-old company as the “original Silicon Valley start-up.”
Bergh has reinvigorated the business, building on its core and expanding outward, while still working to fix the still-suffering and closely connected Dockers and the U.S. wholesale businesses.
Levi Strauss’ third-quarter revenues rose 7 percent to $1.27 billion, which prompted the firm to boost its revenue guidance for the year to constant currency growth of 5 percent to 6 percent, up from the 2 percent to 4 percent previously projected.
Losses on currency hedging, however, hit the bottom line and the company’s net income slipped 10 percent to $88 million while adjusted earnings before interest and taxes inched up 1 percent to $147 million.
“What I’m most pleased about is just how balanced it is across the board,” Bergh said. “If you look at channel, if you look at regions — we’re not firing on all cylinders to be clear, we still have a couple opportunities — but in a very challenging environment we delivered another strong quarter, up 7 percent in reported revenues.”
And the trouble spots are getting attention.
Dockers, which has been hurting the U.S. wholesale business, is trying new approaches, new styles and just recently opened two premium outlet doors, with plans to try some more.
“Having a direct-to-consumer business on Dockers in premium outlet malls is a viable proposition,” the ceo said. “We want to see what we can do if we are really more in control with how the brand shows up with the consumer.”
The general retail climate remains challenging, particularly for companies that wholesale, but Bergh is ever so cautiously crossing his fingers.
“I want to be optimistic,” he said. “I want to believe that maybe we’re seeing the bottom.”