But his admission delivered another interesting impact as well: It jump-started a conversation on how easy it can be to live sustainably. Granted, not everyone seems to have bought the idea of freezing their favorite pair of denim in lieu of washing them. But the simple, almost incidental mention of this unorthodox technique jump-started a conversation that has inspired jean-lovers across the country to come clean with their best sustainability secrets, and why decreasing the use of water isn’t so hard after all.
Jiu jitsu, a form of Japanese martial arts, “is the art of a gentle way of using your opponent’s strength and turning it to the benefit of your own strength,” explained Kobori. Jiu means “supple, or yielding or gentle,” while jitsu refers to “technique."
“Basically it is leveraging [your opponent’s power]. Rather than taking your strength and push against them, it is taking theirs and flipping it around so that it becomes your strength."
So when Bergh initiated a conversation on unexpected ways to care for and preserve one of America’s best-loved forms of apparel, he did more than chat about the durability of Levi's. He rebranded the discussion on sustainability by getting people to engage in a brainstorm of why such practices were cool -- and good for the environment at the same time.
“I think that was the great thing I saw when his comments went viral, is that people were talking about it," Kobori said. "On Good Morning America, the Today’s Show, they were talking about it. Millions of Americans said: ‘Oh, I can wash my jeans less. It’s not going to impact their wearability or their style, or anything; in fact it’s probably better for the pants …Hmm … That’s an easy change in my behavior that I can make.' And thinking of millions of people doing that, it will add up to something.”
“For many decades those of us in the sustainability movement have really tried to engage consumers by giving them more sustainably produced products or services.” Kobori said they have been fairly successful in telling consumers about the mechanics of sustainable purchasing, such as why it reduces the consumer’s foot print, and why it’s environmentally a great idea. “But we haven’t touched their hearts. We haven’t really touched their soul or gotten them emotionally involved in the products. It’s an ironic dilemma, he notes, because in truth, appealing to the consumer’s personal passion is what Levi’s does best.
“We’re best at engaging consumers emotionally with our products. They love Levi's.”
Figuring out how to inspire consumers to love Levi’s jeans that are more sustainable has become an important goal, said Kobori, because the more engaged consumers are in what they buy that is good for the environment, the more they will feel an affinity for products that are environmentally sustainable.
But just as different products appeal to different people, the concept of what it means to live sustainably can differ as well. A video featuring musician and actor Will.i.am and Levi’s Brand President JC Curleigh, which conveys the cool benefits of Ekocycle and Waste<Less jeans’ partnership in recycling plastic bottles, was able to connect with millions of viewers that were familiar with both Levi’s products and Will.i.am’s music. Meanwhile, another video put out by Dockers promoted the conscientious, practical accountability that goes into its Well Thread brand. But its real success, said Kobori, traded on the product’s high-quality appeal. “[The] emphasis really is on style and quality, [by saying] ‘Hey, these pants are stylish: They look good; they feel good; and they’re also better for the environment and for the people who are making them.’”
“I think the consumer is very smart. And so even though we say, Yes, we want to make this fun and engaging, and we absolutely do, there are consumers out there that will watch and look for all of the data, the back up to understand, yes, these claims are true.”
And that, says Kobori is what Levi Strauss’ jiu jitsu sustainability effort is all about, because it means consumers are truly engaged.
Image courtesy of Levi Strauss & Co.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.