LEVI’S CHASING EURO GIRLS
Byline: Robert Murphy
BRUSSELS — It’s the year of the young woman for Levi Strauss & Co.’s European operation. The jeans giant this spring launched a collection for juniors designed to ratchet up business in the fastest-growing segment of the European denim market.
“Women are leading the resurgence in the denim market,” explained Rachel Goldner, brand manager for Levi’s Girls’ line in Europe that was launched this spring. “They are wearing denim en masse and designers are putting more denim into their collections. We have an ambition to grow the girls’ business to a level that will seize the opportunity we believe exists in the current market.”
Sales in the overall European denim market rose last year less than 2 percent, while sales of denim to women grew 5 percent, according to Goldner.
Levi’s strategy for the line, which targets shoppers aged 15 to 19, hinged on designing so-called “iconic” jeans. The reasoning stemmed from the staple status of 501 jeans which, through the peaks and valleys in the denim market, has managed to retain its elemental style.
Named the 525, the pivotal jeans for juniors rides low on the hips and has a slight flare. Three other new “core-fit” jeans were designed: the 565, a two-pocket, straight-leg model; the 595, low-waisted with a straight leg, and the 535, a button-fly model. In May, the 544 was introduced, which rides even lower on the hips than the 525.
According to Goldner, initial sales data indicates the new styles hit the mark.
“We’ve had difficulty keeping up with demand [for the 525],” she said, declining to divulge sales figures.
“In the past, Levi’s has relied on its men’s offering to also appeal to women,” said Goldner. “Certainly there are a lot of women who buy 501s and look great in them. But women, according to our research, are looking for fits that cater exclusively to and flatter the particularities of a woman’s body. Girls were looking for a sexier fit.”
Although the junior line incorporates a strong fashion element, Gardner said the main thrust of the program is fit. “Fit is what Levi’s is about,” she said. “We are not going after the girly segment. There are no jeans with exuberant embroidery, for example.”
The line includes seasonal zip-front denim jackets and T-shirts that are emblazoned with “Road Trip,” “Groupie” and other words evocative of a rock-inspired lifestyle. In that vein, Levi’s Girls’ has also sponsored and outfitted the up-and-coming U.K. girl’s band, Mysteeq.
“Music is very important for the girl’s line,” said Goldner. “When one asks a young girl who she admires they most mention singers.”
Although Goldner declined to disclose Levi’s sales projections for the new effort, she said the company is projecting a significant increase in sales to juniors.
“Women’s sales are very small at Levi’s,” she said. “They are only 18 percent of total turnover in Europe. Concentrating on the girls is part of an overall concerted effort on Levi’s to rebuild the brand.”
Levi’s has no immediate plans to advertise the line, said Goldner. Instead it will rely on other means of communication to reach the public, mostly with eye-catching point-of-sale signs and photos. They also have plans to dress young women deejays.
The project is yet another recent innovation to be rolled out in Europe before infiltrating overseas markets. Two years ago, Levi’s used the continent as a primary testing zone for its Engineered Jeans, which were later imported to the U.S. Last month, the company announced that Robert Hanson, who has worked at its European unit since 1998, will be taking the helm of the Levi’s brand in the U.S.
Following this pattern, the new juniors line may be brought to the U.S., too.
Goldner said plans to do so have not been finalized. When asked if it was Levi’s policy to test cutting-edge products for success in Europe before committing to distribution in America, Goldner answered: “It’s not our intent, even if one is led to believe so. It just happens that Europe has been highly active in recent years.”