The History of Levi’s® Denim And Its Culture

Levi’s is one of — if not the — pioneer of denim culture. It has existed since a time when functional apparels for the working man was not accessible, although creating the brand wasn’t just merely to seize the opportunity to monetise on a market that hadn’t been developed yet – that came after, naturally. Its main objective was, and still is, to provide quality garments and denimwear that wouldn’t break the bank of its consumers.

Since its conception, Levi’s has ensured that craftsmanship would be one of the many attributes it is synonymous with; for the simple reason that it wholeheartedly believes that quality surpasses quantity, an idea that many fast fashion brands or retail outlets looking to make a quick buck fail to embody.

Proof of its practice is here; it’s been over a hundred years since the first pair of Levi’s jeans was produced, many brands followed suit by tapping into the denim market but none have earned the status that Levi’s has achieved for itself. And if that doesn’t speak volumes for itself, perhaps a walk through its history and denim-making process might.

Levi’s Plaza

The Levi’s Plaza is where the denim brand’s corporate headquarters and museum are located. What guests will be welcomed to in The Vault are timelines of Levi’s progress in the form of advertisements, fashion spreads from when it began until where it is today, and even the earliest denim apparel that the brand managed to source. These items are kept in a glass display box, of course, but it’s surreal to imagine that the items they’ve kept in this facility used to belong to someone; the evidence of that is in the creases of each jean.

JUICE is fortunate enough to have met Levi’s very own historian, Tracey Panek, who could identify what sort of labour work the previous wearers for the jeans kept in the archives were involved in. Most of them were cowboys, lumberjacks, or railroad workers — the earliest pair of jeans shown to us is one that dated back to 1879. An impressive find but a more interesting note is how many people who come across vintage Levi’s clothing don’t seem to realise its complete value. It’s time to thrift for denim smartly, folks.

Amongst other jeans that we are allowed to see in The Archive are some that were created in the 19th century — the pair that truly piques our curiosity is one that was worn by a prisoner who drew various faces onto his jeans, which they aptly named ‘The Prisoner’ pants. How Levi’s had acquired this man’s possession is similar to how pirates find their treasure — except nobody is harmed during the process.

To emphasise the lengths Levi’s are willing to take to protect its identity, The Archive room is also equipped with a fireproof safe that keeps its most prized denim artefacts in. These items can be taken out by Levi’s staff, granted that they’ve covered their hands with gloves. If that doesn’t spell serious business, you best read the paragraph again.

Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab


While The Plaza secures historic pieces that make up the Levi’s brand, its Eureka Innovation Lab is where the denim magic happens. In similar fashion to a science lab, the Eureka Innovation Lab houses a group of dedicated designers that are managed by its Head of Global Design, Jonathan Cheung, to create collections that will be sold in its stores. It’s here that the denim makers work together as a cohesive entity to create and test each product by creating new ways to treat denim or how to recreate one of its classics to fit the present market. But it’s not just design that they focus on, the team here are continuously working on new methods to conserve material wastage as well — and any brand that is environmentally conscious has a special place in our hearts.

The most enjoyable aspect during this part of the tour — besides being taken around to the confidential area of Levi’s workplace — is seeing how hands on the team is with its product. Before Levi’s can begin production, the people sitting in this warehouse are in their own spaces washing the denim by themselves to create the perfect look, which will then essentially be translated to a “recipe” sheet for the mass production to refer to.

What’s charming about it all is the fact that even though the same method of washing may be applied to a hundred pairs of jeans, each material has its own character and no two washes will have the exact same detail; so really, each pair of Levi’s jeans is unique in its own way.

Levi’s relevance in the fashion industry despite its many competitors is still as prominent as it was in the ‘20s when it first began gaining its popularity. Only time will be able to truly tell what more the brand is capable of achieving, but based off what we’ve seen, there’s no doubt that it’s going to be great and we’re humbled that we are able to live with Levi’s.

JUICE’s trip to the Levi’s Plaza and its Eureka Innovation Lab was part of a media trip organised by Levi’s, which went down from Wednesday 14 September ‘16 to Sunday 18 September ‘16.

For more on Levi’s, follow its Malaysian division on Instagram via @levisMY.