Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Levi Strauss & Co. said it would cut in half its workforce in Scotland, citing declining demand in Europe for basic denim and a shrinking youth population.
The company will close its sewing plant in Whitburn, with the loss of 586 jobs, cut the staff at its finishing plant in Bellshill to 212 workers from 295 and eliminate three of six jobs at its Bothwell shipping depot.
A Levi’s spokesman said the company was talking with the plants’ unions and with local government representatives about the cuts. The talks will last for 90 days, and Levi’s hopes to complete the layoffs by early next year.
Levi’s closed its plant in Belgium late last year, one in France last spring, and 11 factories in the U.S. last year. Overall, the company plans to reduce its worldwide workforce by 7,500 employees.
Levi’s said the closings in France and Belgium did not solve the problem of severe overcapacity in basic denim manufacturing in Europe.
“This proposal has been forced upon us by a substantial decrease in jeans buying by a shrinking European youth population — projected to decline by a further 5 percent in the next five years — and a marked shift away from denim jeans as a fashion item,” Frank Ross, the company’s European sourcing director, said in a statement.
Levi’s projects European denim demand will drop 3.9 percent, or 8 million units, this year following a 13.8 percent decline between 1996 and 1998. Another decline of 7 percent is expected in 2001.
Levi’s is reformulating its European operations to focus more on fashion denim and less on basic jeans.
The spokesman said Levi’s was having good success in Europe with its Sta-Prest jeans, which have permanent creases, and expects to see strong demand for the Engineered Jeans line it launched last month, which will go on sale in Europe in spring 2000.
“Denim is still very much a part of people’s wardrobe choice,” he said. “We’re simply seeing a spectrum of different kinds of products that people want.”
Levi’s operates eight plants in Europe, including another sewing plant in Dundee, Scotland, that will continue to operate. There are two plants in Spain and one each in Hungary, Poland and Turkey, the spokesman said.