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Profile: John Anderson, Levi Strauss & Co.

John Anderson gives today’s keynote speech at the Annual Meeting. In written responses to questions from the INTA Daily News, he talks about denim, brands and consumers.

What have been the highlights of your career with Levi Strauss & Co?

I’ve been fortunate to have many highlights during my 32-year career at Levi Strauss & Co. A recent one is the launch of our new global brand, Denizen™. Most retailers and consumer brands bring established U.S. brands to Asia, but we’re doing the opposite. We created Denizen™ in Asia for the emerging consumer markets in China and India. One year later, we have stores in India, China, Singapore, Pakistan and South Korea. Based on the positive consumer response, we’re bringing it to the U.S. and Mexico this summer.

What does a typical day involve?

One thing I love about my job is that my days are never the same. Every day, we’re tackling complex projects, so I make time to listen carefully to employees, consumers and customers.

What do you most enjoy about your role?

There are many facets of my role that I enjoy. In general, I love working with young people and innovating every season. The fashion business moves at a quick pace, and I enjoy the opportunity to navigate the dynamic environment the industry offers.

What are the biggest challenges?

Around the world, different regions still have challenging economies and within the apparel industry we face rising raw material costs, in particular cotton, that are putting pressure on prices. In challenging times, consumers look for value and turn to the brands they know and trust. This is why it’s so important to have easily recognizable iconography on your product. For example, consumers see the red tab on our product or the stitching on the back pocket and in one glance they know that it’s Levi’s® and they know what to expect in terms of quality. It makes it vital for our company to maintain and protect our products’ logos and branding.

What topics do you propose to cover in your keynote speech at INTA?

In my keynote, I’ll discuss how important it is to protect brands and keep them relevant to the times and relevant for consumers around the globe. Your brand is everything, and the more popular you are as a brand, the more people want to copy what you do. The more established your brand is, the more work you have to do to keep it fresh. It is amazing in business history how many world-beating brands can suddenly become also-rans after a period of neglect.

How important are brands to the company?

Brands are extremely important. But to us, what is more important is the authenticity of our brands. By that I mean the values associated with our brands and our company. A company can have a logo, trademark or product line, but without authenticity, values, principles, you don’t have an honest enduring brand. We know that consumers select products based on their perception of the brand.

What has your career at Levi Strauss & Co taught you about brands?

Truly great brands are timeless and constantly challenge their leadership. They continue to re-invest, innovate and grow through the years. No one understands the need to innovate better than Levi Strauss & Co. Our brands had a near-death experience during the 1990s because of the rise of fashion denim from other brands. We learned to reinvent ourselves and to find new relevancy in these times. We learned many lessons about the power of our brand from that experience.

How important are brands in the apparel industry?

Brands reflect values, and our company takes its vision and its values seriously. From its inception, Levi Strauss & Co. has been closely identified with the rights of workers and with fairness in the workplace. Today our commitment to sustainability is deeply embedded in our brands; you can’t separate our brands from our values. They are part of our identity and how we communicate with consumers.

Which other brands do you respect or admire? Why?

I admire brands that are leaders in their category, but keep reinventing themselves—such as Apple, GE and Burberry.

What makes a strong brand in the apparel industry?

Brands must resonate with audiences around the world as the world changes. A brand that can do this is a strong brand. Since the 1950s, the Levi’s® brand has been popular beyond U.S. borders. Recently, we’ve found new ways to become relevant to cultures around the world. For example, our new Denizen™ line was designed for customers in Asia and is headquartered in Singapore to be closer to our brand’s audience.

What are the biggest threats to brands today?

Brands must take relationships with consumers seriously. That’s why we are aggressive about protecting our brands and go after counterfeiters. We are also vigilant about trademark infringement. Intellectual property theft is the same as personal identity theft. You have to protect your personal identity and you have to protect your brand’s identity.

What is your favorite item of apparel and why?

My Levi’s® 501 jeans, of course!

Today’s keynote speaker

John Anderson will give the keynote address at today’s Opening Ceremonies, starting at 9:00am in Moscone West Rooms 3000-3012. He is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Levi Strauss & Co., a California-headquartered company that has sales in more than 110 countries.

John joined Levi Strauss & Co. in 1979. Before becoming COO in July 2006, he was President of the company’s Asia Pacific Division for eight years and President of the Global Sourcing Organization for two-and-a-half years. During this time, the company’s sourcing operation was turned into a competitive asset and continued to strengthen its responsible sourcing practices with suppliers around the world.

John began his career with the company as a product manager in Australia. Between 1988 and 1995, he was a merchandiser-first for the Levi’s® brand in Europe and then for menswear in the United States. He became Vice President of Merchandising and Product Development for the U.S. Levi’s® brand in 1995. He served as General Manager of Levi Strauss Canada and as President of Levi Strauss Canada and Latin America from 1996 to 1998. He was also the interim President of Levi Strauss Europe from September 2003 to February 2004.

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