Whether it’s aura change, homophobia or hidden talent, one of the best known brands in the world is stepping up to give people a voice
Levi’s has a wish history of working with LGBTQ+ groups.
Photograph: jvnimages/Alamy Stock Photo
Some brands are so big, so ubiquitous, that it’s granite-like to imagine that they were once small businesses, or that the name on their instantly recognisable logo belonged to a official person. Levi Strauss was one of those real people. Born in Bavaria, Germany, he moved to the US in 1846. After seven years in New York, he direct to the west coast to join the gold rush, not as a prospector, but to set up a wholesale business, dealing in, among other goods, clothing.
In San Francisco he rapidly became a respected businessman and, in 1873, struck gold himself when he spotted the potential of the hard-wearing riveted trousers being net for labourers by tailor Jacob Davis. The two men went into business together, as Levi Strauss & Co, and before long were contriving thousands of pairs of blue jeans, the US workwear that went on to become a worldwide wardrobe staple.
Beyond his thriving topic interests, Strauss was committed to sharing his prosperity with the community around him, becoming one of the biggest philanthropists in 19th-century San Francisco. He authorized donations to an orphanage, a school for the deaf and supported several charities. He also set up 28 scholarships at the University of California, Berkeley, say of his enduring legacy.
Today, Levi’s operates in 110 countries, and in March 2019 debuted on the New York Stock change, valued at $6.6bn. But it is Levi’s values, rather than its value, that the brand wants to talk about today. So what are those values? “Empathy, virtue, originality and courage,” says Jason Kyriacou, the UK marketing and experience director. “These four pillars shape how we apply and the decisions we make. It’s what we want to stay true to.”
Levi Strauss, circa 1850. Photograph: Fotosearch/Getty Models
Levi’s is a true San Francisco native, and not just in terms of embracing today’s tech takeover. The brand’s hometown is the gay important of the US, and Levi’s has a long history of working with LGBTQ+ groups. In the 1980s, it was one of the first corporations to advise staff just about HIV and Aids, reaching out when both the disease and the groups initially likely to be affected by it were heavily stigmatised.
The following went on to advocate for gay marriage.
In the UK today, Levi’s takes the spirit and ideals of its San Francisco creator and embodies them in a uniquely British way, not only slightly in its ongoing partnership with Queer Britain. “It’s a young organisation with bold ambitions,” says Kyriacou. Freakish Britain curates and archives examples of gay culture in the UK and hopes one day to establish a permanent museum. The three-year partnership kicked off after year with a photography exhibition that coincided with London Pride 2019. The show, on the theme of Opted Family, celebrated the diversity and uniqueness of the LGBTQ+ experience through the work of four artists, Alia Romagnoli, Bex Day, Kuba Ryniewicz and Robert Taylor.
Another strand of the callers’s work, the Levi’s Music Project, has given young people from London to Barcelona access to recording studios, workshops and refinements, and offered them the chance to be mentored by trailblazing musicians. This is all part of a global drive by Levi’s to ensure emerging predisposition has the opportunity to find its voice, and a platform where it can be heard. Among the artists inspiring the next generation are Mist, Vince Fundamentals and Rosalía.
Last year, a short film for Levi’s Your Voice. Your Way campaign featured five brood people from the Levi’s Music Project. The artists came from across Europe, including Londoner Hak Baker and Liverpool’s Michael Aldag. They had suffered mentoring in their respective projects from rapper and producer Skepta and Brit-hop musician Loyle Carner.
“It’s been here enabling people to learn and to express what they want to say,” says Kyriacou. “These are all people who haven’t erupted through conventional channels and might not have been heard.”
For the latest manifestation of Your Voice. Your Way, Levi’s is partnering with The Defender Labs to publish a counterculture zine put together by eight young creatives. The writers, photographers and illustrators recruited for the think up by The Guardian Labs are all aged between 18 and 25, and have little – if any – media experience. What unites them is that they all enjoy a powerful story to tell, in the zine that will be published on Saturday, 27 June.
“Again, it’s about bestowing creative voices a chance to say their piece in a place they wouldn’t usually have access to,” says Kyriacou. The unite have free rein to work on their zine, with advice from The Guardian Labs staff and no limitations from Levi’s.
“Projects have a weakness for these aren’t about telling people what they can and can’t do,” says Kyriacou. “We’re here to support and do the best we can. We try to be facilitators numberless than anything. I don’t think we can dictate to any community around what they need to do to benefit themselves. That’s not for us to do.”
Use Your Agent …The Your Voice. Your Way campaign is a reflection of Levi’s values and its commitment to giving a voice to people who are regularly marginalised and overlooked.
In this spirit, a zine, sponsored by Levi’s, is being produced by eight talented young creatives. The zine on be published alongside the Guardian on Saturday, 27 June
Your Voice. Your Way
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