Aug 21 2012
One of the facts we tout here at Levi Strauss & Co. is the fact that our products are sold in more than 110 countries around the world. We think that’s significant.
But it’s also worth noting that doing business outside the United States is nothing new for this company. In fact, we have been operating beyond the U.S. borders for at least 150 years.
From 1853, when he arrived in San Francisco, until the invention of jeans in 1873, Levi Strauss was a dry goods distributor/wholesaler. That is, he imported fine dry goods – clothing, bedding, combs, boots, etc. – from his brothers in New York and, eventually, from Europe.
Levi sold these to the retail accounts he set up with the small merchants of the American West. But looking through the financial ledgers that survived San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and fire, we find that Levi also had some retail customers outside the country.
In 1863, for example, the firm of Shirfiser Bros. in Victoria, British Columbia, carried the fine dry goods sold by Levi Strauss & Co. Throughout the decade of the 1860s other companies such as R. Cohn and the interestingly named Lewis Lewis, were also among our customers in Victoria. The town had only been incorporated in 1862, but was a prosperous place thanks to a gold rush the previous decade. Like San Francisco, Victoria was a jumping-off place for gold miners.
In 1869, Marks & Bernard, and Tong Hop of Honolulu had Levi Strauss & Co. dry goods on their shelves. King Kamehameha V was on the throne, and the islands were also home to many American sugar and cotton businesses.
In 1871, Levi had customers in a number of businesses in Mexico, including in the cities of Guaymas, La Paz, and Mazatlán.
Levi Strauss & Co. introduced the blue jean to the West and to the world in 1873. It’s unclear whether our global customers also carried jeans in their inventory, but we continued to grow our dry goods businesses in Canada and Hawai’i, and we added England and Panama to the list by 1912.
We registered our Two Horse trademark in Japan, South Africa and Australia early in the twentieth century, because we wanted to make sure no one infringed on its power.
Most or all of these far flung customers were closed or dropped by the late 1910s, but in the 1950s we looked beyond the American border and started to cultivate global customers again.
Today, it’s just how we do business, but we take great pride in how long our name and our fine products have been out in the world.
Posted By: Lynn Downey, Historian, Levi Strauss & Co.
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