Perhaps it seems a little strange to tell a story about perseverance, grit and passion when describing the clothing worn by sports fans, rather than the athletes on the field. But when we sat down with two of the people responsible for helping bring our new Levi’s® 49ers collection to life, that’s exactly what we uncovered.
The collection started out as a pipe dream for an avid 49ers fan — one who also happens to be a merchant at LS&Co. Merchants are vital to developing and bringing our products to life. They’re involved in all aspects of product development, from devising an overall strategy based on consumer insights and trends to collaborating with design on product decisions and influencing how products will show up in retail stores.
Adam Zloto, now product lead for the 49ers collection, was the guy with the initial vision. Devon Tompkins, a global merchant focused on Levi’s men’s icons, partnered with him to help make the concept a reality. What happened next is a great example of how collaboration, dedication and support from leadership (not to mention a bit of serendipitous timing) can produce an inspired result.
We’ll leave the rest to them to tell us in their own words.
How did the 49ers collection get started?
ADAM: The concept really came out of being both a diehard Levi’s fan and an avid Bay Area sports fan. I was inspired to bring the two together. When I started mocking up some ideas in October 2012 with the help of some of my friends in design it was through the trucker concept. Eventually when I thought I had a good representation of the idea, I brought the concept to Devon. Luckily, she was as excited as I was about the idea and agreed to partner with me to help pitch it to our managers. But you can’t really talk about how it got started, without talking about all the people involved who made it a reality. So many people from all across the business spent time outside of their typical work to bring this collection to life. If it weren’t for them, 49ers fans wouldn’t be wearing these awesome jackets.
How did the announcement of Levi’s Stadium come into play?
DEVON: The timing of the two was almost eerily perfect. We’d been mocking up concepts in our spare time months before the stadium announcement, and had a meeting on the calendar with Grant Barth, our Chief Merchandising Officer, to present the idea. Then, two days before that meeting, the stadium was announced.
ADAM: It was so great — that very same week, we were able to walk into Grant’s office with a big idea based on what is probably the biggest partnership in the history of the company. He loved the idea, fully supported us and helped us get the buy-in we needed to bring it to market.
Sounds pretty perfect. So everything was smooth sailing from there?
DEVON: There were definitely challenges, especially related to the timeline – we had to work at an accelerated pace to have the product available for football season.
At that point, the product was already fairly evolved in terms of design, but we had yet to get partners, such as the NFL, engaged. The tight timeline meant we had to be extremely nimble and solutions-oriented in order to meet the needs of those involved. We needed to bring design changes to the table in a very short timeframe — that meant calling in a lot of favors to get things turned around quickly.
What sets the 49ers collection apart from other fan merchandise?
ADAM: First and foremost, I think it’s different because the idea comes from true 49ers fans. These are items that I, as a sports fan, would want to wear, but didn’t see out there amidst all the jerseys, hats and t-shirts. I think folks will recognize that. They’re garments I think sports fans will be proud to wear on game day and every day. A lot of my friends who have grown up in the Bay Area have their father’s or even grandfather’s 49ers jacket and I wanted these to play the same role, something you pass down.
DEVON: I love that not only are the jackets so authentically Levi’s, but there’s a great range of offerings — from the bold Trucker with gold satin sleeves to the more understated twill jackets. Because of our roots in denim, we’re really the only brand that could offer these items.
What’s your biggest lesson learned throughout this journey?
DEVON: Be persistent, have patience, and don’t give up on something you truly believe in. There were a million times during this process when we could have thrown in the towel and given up, but we kept at it until we got our idea in front of the right people at the right time.
ADAM: The whole experience really exemplifies why I love working for Levi’s — our managers were extremely supportive of us, and countless colleagues went out of their way to help, I owe a lot of people a jacket! It just goes to show how passionate our people are about Levi’s, our customers and our products.
Okay, now for a little fun. If you could share a meal with one professional athlete, past or present, who would it be and why?
ADAM: Joe Montana. Enough said.
DEVON: Mia Hamm, because she is the ultimate role model for female athletes.
What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
ADAM: I was visiting South America and a hostel owner asked if I wanted to stay for the summer and bartend. So I did.
DEVON: Agreeing to work with Adam.
Last one, do you collect anything?
DEVON: I recently started collecting vintage 501s.
ADAM: I don’t have an actual collection of anything, but I just don’t really throw anything away. I’m kind of a hoarder.