Chip Bergh has answered back — without backing down — to anyone who believes he’s taken the slogan of the Levi brand’s new advertising campaign, “Live in Levi’s,” a bit too literally.
Bergh, president and chief executive officer of Levi Strauss & Co., raised more than a few eyebrows when he commented at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green Conference in mid-May that he was wearing a pair of Levi’s jeans that were a year old and “have yet to see a washing machine.”
The comment, frequently interpreted in headlines and social media postings to mean that he’d never washed them, went viral quickly, and Bergh on Monday turned to LinkedIn to issue a response and a challenge.
For one, he explained that he frequently spot-washes or hand-washes (in cold water) and hang-dries his jeans — “Ask my wife — I really do!” — and that these practices are an environmentally sound and hygienic alternative to the frequent practice of washing in hot water “after one or two wearings.”
His LinkedIn post gave Bergh an opportunity to challenge current consumer practices and reiterate his belief in the brand’s quality, durability and commitment to sustainability.
“I was struck from my first interview that this is a company that’s always chosen the harder right over the easier wrong,” he wrote.
Before Bergh’s arrival from The Procter & Gamble Co. in September 2011, Levi’s conducted research showing that an average pair of jeans consumes 3,500 liters of water in its lifetime and that nearly half, 1,600 liters, can be traced to the time spent in consumers’ washing machines. About 4 percent of the water consumed comes from the production of the jeans, a figure Levi’s looked to reduce through the introduction of its Water<Less collection and subsequent green initiatives.
The firm more recently has worked with the Better Cotton Initiative to look for ways to make cotton cultivation, responsible for the greatest share of water consumption in a pair of jeans’ life cycle, or 48 percent, more sustainable and less water-intensive.
Bergh closed by saying that he boasted about his aversion to jeans washing “to provoke everyone to think hard about their laundry habits, especially with their jeans” and invited comments. Among the first received was from Daryl Michael Hodnett of the University of Missouri, who kiddingly called the post “a bit scandalous from a guy that grew up in a soap company,” a reference to Bergh’s P&G pedigree.