Levi Strauss & Co. and Goodwill just launched a new program to make it easier for consumers to donate used clothing using a free shipping label. Encouraging a cycle of reuse demonstrates LS&Co.’s long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability. On rare occasions, this reuse cycle also yields another unexpected benefit — a Goodwill donation that makes its way to the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives. Sound unlikely? It happened recently with an uncommon pair of Levi’s® 505TM jeans.
LS&Co. employee Darla Myers, based in Eugene, Oregon, tipped me off. Darla’s daughter works at Goodwill in Eugene and found a pair of vintage Levi’s® jeans while sorting donations one day.
“The red tab has the capital ‘E’,” Darla wrote me. The jeans had been modified into flares using red and blue bandannas. Darla’s daughter flagged the jeans as special, but they ended up among the Halloween items.
After several phone calls, and a pleasant conversation with Goodwill CEO Jim Gibbons, I tracked down someone in the organization’s ecommerce group and discovered that the jeans had been placed on an online auction. The manager forwarded several photos and I confirmed that the pants were from the late 1960s. Luckily LS&Co. has partnered with Goodwill on a variety of projects over the years, from the Field of Jeans initiative to our clothing recycling program, and Goodwill staff was open to a plan to return the jeans.
The “Goodwill Jeans” arrived by overnight delivery. The zippered 1960s Levi’s® 505 TM jeans were customized by the person who wore them and are a fine example of popular street clothes of the day. The 505 TM jeans started life around 1961 as LS&Co.’s first pre-shrunk jeans, but was given the lot number 551Z—“Z” for zipper, another option to our 501® button-fly jeans. In 1967 LS&Co. renamed the pre-shrunk zippered jean a different lot number: 505. The silhouette and other style attributes stayed the same.
Like the person who wore the “Goodwill Jeans,” Levi’s® fans during the 1960s and 1970s personalized their jeans with patches, paint, embroidery or even political symbols. Adding bandanas to the bottom of the jeans was especially creative. The bandana size worked perfectly to add flare to the jeans, fleshing out the silhouette of the pants.
Here are a few Goodwill Hunting Tips, gleaned from my recent find, to uncover vintage Levi’s® jeans:
- Return to your thrift shop regularly to look for new items—your local store restocks often
- Ask other people to be on the lookout for Levi’s® jeans
- Look for a big “E” on the Red Tab on the right back pocket
- Check the label or patch above the right back pocket to determine the Levi’s® lot number (501®, 505 TM, 517 TM)—501® jeans are LS&Co.’s iconic product but other styles are also interesting
- Don’t overlook worn out Levi’s®—patches, holes, and personal customizations like the bandanas give the pants character
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tracey Panek is the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. where she manages the day-to-day workings of the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives as a key corporate asset, answering historical questions, assisting designers, brand managers, executives and other employees whose work requires historical materials in the Archives.
Prior to joining LS&Co., Tracey spent 14 years as Historian and Archivist at AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah where she managed a corporate history program for the 100+ year old company. She began her corporate history career at AirTouch Communications—today Verizon and Vodafone—a San Francisco based company that launched cellular service at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.
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