Levi’s. For the first 48 years of my life, it was the only name in jeans. Well, once I actually started buying my own jeans, so more like the first 35 years of my life.
Before that, my mother made me wear cheap JC Penney knockoffs, the kind of jeans that stayed stiff and dark blue forever. She also made me wear empty bread bags over my socks in the winter, as an added layer of protection in my boots. And, yes, they were horrifically visible, draped over the the tops of my boots and extending beneath those already uncool jeans so that every bully in my school – a charter school for bullies – could see. My brother and I remember these being the unmistakable Wonder bread bags, but we both agree that this couldn’t have been the case because our mom was far too cheap to ever buy Wonder bread.
And too cheap to buy Levi’s. But she eventually relented, and I had many happy memories of my Levi’s blue jeans. They’d gently fade in color and become deliciously soft and comfortable. Eventually I’d wear holes in the knees from rough-housing and the other things boys used to do before consumer electronics transformed kids into passive observers. Of course, mother would then sew embarrassing patches over the holes, but let’s not dwell on the long-infected wounds of my childhood, OK?
This is about Levi’s, and the death of an American icon. You see, I continued buying and wearing Levi’s jeans. I can’t even fathom how many pairs I must have purchased in the past three decades.
But in the past couple of years I’ve noticed a sharp decline in their quality. It’s hard to find a pair that fades like they used to, or grows as soft with wear.
Part of the problem is that the company has evolved from a manufacturer of blue jeans into a full-on fashion brand. Do you have any idea how many different styles and types of jeans they sell these days? It’s mind-boggling. Five-oh this and five-oh that. And every time I buy a new pair, they’ve discontinued the one I used to wear, so I have to sift through all the new options to find one that most closely resembles the discontinued one, which, of course, was the one that most resembled the discontinued one before that, which was the one that most resembled the original Levi’s. It’s like these people drank the New Coke – and liked it.
Maybe they are just trying to stay ahead of the trends, and appease every possible target demographic. After all, today’s consumers can’t wait, so now they sell pre-faded jeans. It’s asinine. The reason we loved Levi’s is because they didn’t follow the trends. They didn’t appease anyone. They were the trend. People appeased them.
Or maybe the decline is due to the fact that Levi’s is now run by a grown man named Chip. Or that Chip recently suggested that people shouldn’t wash Levi’s jeans, as that might cause them to fail prematurely. Funny, I thought Levi’s jeans built their reputation on being tough, durable garments.
Which leads us to the heart of the problem, at least as it affects me, and that is the undeniable fact that Levi’s blue jeans don’t last as long as they used to, or even as long as they should. The past four pairs I bought all wore holes in the crotch in less than a year. Bloody rubbish!
An Effort To Help Levi Strauss Was Tossed Back In My Face
Unwilling to simply walk away from this once noble brand after all this time, I sent Levi’s this letter, which was designed to offer some levity while expressing my concerns so as not to be one of those overly whiny whiners. Clearly I wasn’t asking for a return, refund, or exchange, which I thought I made quite clear in the second-to-last paragraph: “I don’t expect a refund or anything.” I was merely offering them two pairs of defective jeans for a quality control review, to examine what might have gone wrong in hopes of preventing it in the future. This is something I’ve done with Patagonia, one of the finest companies on the planet, and they were glad for the opportunity.
Levi’s, however, wasn’t as eager to hear from a loyal customer. In fact, I eventually received a barely legible response from them, returned with my two pairs of jeans. I’d call it a form letter, but it wasn’t even that. It was a single sheet of paper addressed to no one that had been photocopied so may times that it was difficult to read. In fact, it might have been so old that it was, at one point, mimeographed. If only their jeans lasted as long as that form seems to have!
This barely legible piece of paper informed its nameless recipient that the warranty on the enclosed items had expired and therefore no replacements would be provided. Clearly these morons didn’t even read my letter. And that’s when I realized that I was not a loyal customer in their eyes, but rather a statistic on a spreadsheet.
Which led me to the real problem behind today’s Levi’s: the company is packed with mindless baboons, thoughtless drones following the path of highest profit and least effort. Levi’s lost its soul. And they lost me as well.
So, yeah, now I wear Wrangler jeans. The feel OK so far, though it has only been a few weeks. Am I less cool? I don’t know. Maybe. But, like Levi’s, I’ve changed over the years. And I now realize that the jeans aren’t as important as what’s in them. Which is a lesson Levi’s would do well to learn.