After 170 years in business – and 150 years since launching its iconic 501 jeans – American denim maker Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Levi’s last year accelerated expansion of its retail presence in East Asia-Pacific, notably opening more than 100 locations in Thailand in the first half of 2022 alone. More Levi’s stores have since opened in Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, with a number of existing stores strategically transformed into “next-generation” store formats, or digitally supplemented stores which aim to streamline the consumer journey.
SEE ALSO: Levi’s Asia revenues up 16 percent last quarter
In keeping with the times, this month Levi’s named South Korean K-pop group NewJeans as its new global brand ambassadors for its 501s’ milestone year.
Retail in Asia spoke with Nuholt Huisamen, Levi Strauss & Co.’s senior vice-president and managing director for East Asia-Pacific (EAP), on the role of next-generation retail in Levi’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategy across the region.
RiA: Tell us about your DTC strategy for East Asia Pacific.
Huisamen: Being a DTC-first company enables us to offer consumers the fullest expression of our brand and deepen our relationship with our fans. For the full year of 2022, LS&Co.’s global DTC business was up 18 percent for the year, with a 19 percent increase in owned-and-operated stores and a high single-digit increase in e-commerce. And we’re not planning on slowing down. We plan to reinvent, refresh, and open new ‘next-gen’ flagship stores across the East Asia-Pacific region.
We know that consumers – and in particular Gen Z shoppers – like to interact with their favourite brand and shop in increasingly hybrid ways, blending the physical and digital experience. The East Asia-Pacific region continues to be important to our overall strategic ambitions and Asia as a whole is one of our fastest growing denim markets. The momentum we’re seeing is propelled by a growing urban population and experiencing an increasing impact of western wear that is growing the popularity of jeans, especially amongst women consumers.
RiA: In the first half of 2022, you opened more than 100 locations in Thailand. Why Thailand, and why brick-and-mortar?
Huisamen: Thailand is a market with significant opportunities and we are proud to be the denim category leader. Levi’s has very strong brand recognition among Thai fans. While e-commerce continues to be integral to the overall Levi’s brand experience, brick-and-mortar provides an essential touchpoint where consumers can discover new favourite fits and test out how they feel in the clothes they choose in an immersive way that fully showcases the head-to-toe offering of the brand.
We are constantly driving to elevate and differentiate the brick and mortar experience across all our owned and operated stores.
RiA: Beyond Thailand, what is in store for East Asia-Pacific?
Huisamen: We will continue to ramp up our physical store expansion plans across the EAP region and roll out existing store refreshes, as well as new in-store services throughout the East Asia Pacific (EAP) region such as our Levi’s Tailor Shops that encourage our fans to personalise, repair, and reimagine their favourite Levi’s products. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the iconic Levi’s 501 jean. Our DTC channels will serve as platforms for memorable storytelling, ensuring that a new generation of fans discover the brand and make it part of their stories.
RiA: How are you ensuring that LS&Co remains the category leader in denim in Asia? Do you think your key audience has changed?
Huisamen: It requires in-depth research and a forward-thinking proactive approach that ensures we stay at the centre of culture and are poised to win in the market. Every year we conduct extensive research to find out more on how we perform against a number of vectors in the region. Based on our recent research, we are glad to see there is strong demand for denim and people view us as iconic, especially our 501 jeans.
While consumers between 18 and 30 years old are one of our key target demographics, we firmly believe that there’s a pair of Levi’s for everyone.
RiA: Tell us more about Levi’s ‘next-gen’ store formats
Huisamen: Our Levi’s Next-Gen Indigo store concept is our reply to the digitisation that is becoming part of the shopping experience. NextGen stores offer an elevated store experience that uses digital tools to streamline the consumer journey, including LED portal entry archways and LED screens for immersive experiential content. Select stores in the EAP region will also introduce in-store tailoring services for greater personalisation through our Levi’s Tailor Shop initiative.
Additionally, Levi’s NextGen store formats will make it easier for shoppers to find the perfect item, with digital displays that allow them to browse a larger selection of products and compare different styles and materials. These store formats will feature interactive experiences with virtual try-ons and styling advice, allowing shoppers to get a better understanding of the product and make more informed decisions.
RiA: How are you focusing on omnichannel engagement?
Huisamen: We will continue to bolster our omnichannel engagement by offering a unified shopping experience across all of our channels. This includes providing a consistent online store experience across all our digital channels, such as our website and mobile app. We also offer click-and-collect options in select stores, so customers can pick up online orders in-store. Additionally, Levi’s has implemented a loyalty program that allows customers to earn rewards and discounts across multiple channels, and we have implemented an interactive virtual stylist in our stores to assist customers with product selection.
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RiA: What key objectives do you hope to achieve in 2023?
Huisamen: 2023 is a milestone year for Levi Strauss & Co. with the company’s 170th anniversary and the 150th birthday celebration of the iconic Levi’s 501 jean. Across the company, we are incredibly honoured and proud to celebrate such an incredible milestone of an industry icon. Levi’s 501 jeans are not just a staple in closets everywhere, but a garment woven into the very history of apparel and design. It’s a product that has withstood the test of time and today continues to make the Levi’s brand stronger than ever before with the 501 family growing nearly 30 percent compared to the year prior. You simply can’t tell the story of Levi’s, or of fashion, without telling the story of Levi’s 501 jeans.
We see opportunities to leverage on this milestone to celebrate the love existing fans have toward the brand, and to introduce the Levi’s brand to an expanded audience. You’ll see these coming to life through numerous events taking place in May including our partnership with Rolling Loud (Thailand) as well as the exclusive 501 fits we’ll be launching throughout the year.