By standing up for the things that matter, Levi's goes beyond fashion


By standing up for the things that matter, Levi’s goes beyond fashion

"We will never stop taking a stance to address discrimination and equality"

By Shree Vrinda  October 31st, 2019

For over 160 years, Levi’s has been a name synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll, counterculture, and effortless style. Apart from being a household name and an on-trend brand, Levi’s has successfully managed to remain ethical and inclusive throughout its journey. From the company’s fight towards ethical production of garments in 1991 to being the first company to provide domestic partner benefits to the LGBTQ community, Daniel Lee, executive director of the Levi’s Strauss Foundation, tells us how the iconic label goes beyond fashion and what it takes to stay true to your morals in the business today.

ELLE: Tell us a little about Levi’s Strauss Foundation and its focus areas.
Daniel Lee: Levi’s Strauss Foundation is the corporate foundation of Levi’s Strauss and company, we share the same values that guide the parent company. Our originality, empathy, integrity and courage guide us to take stands and support those who are most marginalised in society.

We want to use our voice and funding to influence and support those who are at the front lines of change. The areas that we focus on are: addressing the HIV & AIDS epidemic, advancing the rights of people working in poor conditions in the garment and apparel sector, and social justice. We are a brand known for authentic self-expression.

Daniel Lee

ELLE: Tell us a little about Levi’s Strauss Foundation and its focus areas.
Daniel Lee: Levi’s Strauss Foundation is the corporate foundation of Levi’s Strauss and company, we share the same values that guide the parent company. Our originality, empathy, integrity and courage guide us to take stands and support those who are most marginalised in society.

We want to use our voice and funding to influence and support those who are at the front lines of change. The areas that we focus on are: addressing the HIV & AIDS epidemic, advancing the rights of people working in poor conditions in the garment and apparel sector, and social justice. We are a brand known for authentic self-expression.

ELLE: How does the foundation ensure inclusivity towards the LGBTQ community?
DL: It’s been a huge part of our DNA to support the LGBTQ community. Dating back to 1992, when we were the first company that provided domestic partner benefits of any Fortune 500 company to the LGBTQ community. We received over a million feedback letters at our HQ at the time and about five percent of them were supportive. These moments have been substantial in the brand’s history because these were the moments for us to live our values.

Our products have always been worn by change-makers in society, be it the miners in the American West, people in the civil rights movements or registered voters. The company has been a part of history’s most powerful moments like when people took the first stones down from the Berlin wall wearing Levi’s.

The company stands alongside social movements across the United States

ELLE: What are some of the ways in which the foundation improves the rights of workers?

DL: Levi’s was the first company to establish a code of conduct, way back in 1991. The Code Of Conduct is a set of labour, social and environmental standards that all of our suppliers were required to use. In 1991, when our company was going into China, our competitors thought we are not going to make any profits, but we realised this is the right thing to do. We want all the people who make our products to be treated with respect and dignity. Surprisingly, it became an industry-standard then and launched a thousand other codes of conduct.

ELLE: Can you talk about the role of the foundation in confronting social stigma and discrimination?

DL: In moments of disruption, it is often those vulnerable in the society who become even more gullible. We, as a brand, stand for authentic self-expression and it’s not just for some, but all. We believe it’s important to use everything the company has at its disposal—its voice, influence, philanthropy. We work with our employees, we volunteer and communicate, in the service of those who are vulnerable and are creating the kind of society that we want to live in. We will never stop taking a stance to address discrimination and equality.

ELLE: What are some of the key ways in which the foundation helps amplify voices of social justice leaders?

DL: We look for people who are the first change-makers in society, and since our values are so strong, we promote people who embody those morals. We’re supporting numerous social justice figures that are at the forefront of protecting the rights of Muslims, South Asians, immigrants, refugees and members of the transgender community.

In business today, we’re foreseeing opportunities where governments are not acting on issues that matter to folks and includes our consumers. We call upon the business community to use their voice and their influence, to take leadership to the unaddressed issues, and stand alongside folks who are change-makers in the community.