AP NEWS

Icon of American Fashion Goes Public

March 22, 2019

By Rachel Siegel

The Washington Post

Levi Strauss made an initial public offering Thursday morning, marking the second Wall Street debut for the iconic jean maker in its 166-year history.

Late Wednesday, Levi’s priced its IPO at $17 per share -- higher than the estimated range and valuing the company at $6.6 billion. The stock will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the LEVI ticker symbol. On Thursday, the NYSE loosened its dress code so traders can wear denim.

The company was publicly traded from 1971 to 1985 until it was bought in a leveraged buyout by the Haas family, which is descended from the company’s namesake founder. Analysts say that the public offering will be a financial boon for the Haas family. Even after the IPO, the company will maintain roughly 80 percent of the voting shares.

Since chief executive Chip Bergh took over the company in 2011, Levi’s has overhauled its image. In the past few years, it has dodged threats from athleisure companies and other denim sales. Last year, Levi’s churned $5.6 billion in sales.

But the path hasn’t always been a smooth one. Analysts said the brand -- which credits itself with inventing blue jeans in 1873 -- had lost its way by the 2000s. At the time, Levi’s struggled to come up with an answer for why shoppers should turn to them instead of high-end designers that floated on celebrity endorsements and expensive price tags. (Think True Religion, which sold for hundreds of dollars and were paraded around by Britney Spears and Mariah Carey.)

“Consumers never really fell out of love with Levi’s, and no one wanted them to fail,” said Diana Smith associate director of retail and apparel at the research firm Mintel. “They just forgot about Levi’s because the brand wasn’t giving them a reason to stick around. They lost a decade of consumers.”

That all changed with Bergh’s new vision, Smith said, which focused on making Levi’s a part of modern pop culture. That included partnerships with popular brands like Off-White and Vetements, and making a mark in the sports and music scenes. Levi’s Stadium is home to the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, and the company turns out at festivals like Coachella.