An Eye to the Future: A Conversation On LS&Co.’s Emerging Technology Framework

Levi Strauss & Co.
October 13, 2022

Think of the latest pair of Levi’s® jeans that you might have purchased, and two things are certain (aside from the fact that they look GREAT on you). First, digital innovation will have been a big part of your experience — whether you shopped online, in-store or a hybrid of both. And the way those jeans made their way from one of our designers’ desks to your closet will have been enabled by some combination of data, AI and technology. While some of those capabilities may be unique to us, the overall process of digitization is not: it just speaks to the ways in which the apparel industry has — and continues to be — transformed by tech advancements.

Now here’s one more insight: great partnerships have been as vital to LS&Co.’s success as the products, manufacturing innovations and industry “firsts” that we’ve led on our own. From the patent granted in 1873 to our founder, Levi Strauss, and tailor, Jacob Davis, for the riveted, Levi’s® 501 work pant to our amazing brand collaborations today, we’re able to truly differentiate ourselves, create amazing consumer experiences and drive better business outcomes when we find like-minded partners to help us move the needle on our business strategies. As we often say, we don’t have to go at it alone.

So how do we accelerate our digital transformation efforts by tapping into emerging technology capabilities being developed today by leading tech innovators — and in which areas? We caught up with Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles, Head of Digital Strategy and Emerging Technology at LS&Co. to talk more about how we navigate and generate new opportunities in the digital space for the company.

Prior to joining LS&Co. earlier this year, you’ve held positions as Founder, CEO and COO of technology start-ups, been an investor yourself and sat on the boards of tech companies. With your deep understanding of that world, what was your first priority as you took on this role?

What made this opportunity so important and interesting to me — besides joining this values-led company with iconic brands that I love — was the opportunity to accelerate some great work already underway by aligning our business strategies to the right opportunities in the emerging technology space. That sounds simple, but it’s not, especially when you consider the breadth and speed of what’s happening in the industry.

As my first priority, our team was mobilized to establish a framework for evaluating digital innovation opportunities that is grounded in our company’s DNA and values, backed by sound financial analysis and consumer-centric insights. Importantly, the model we put in place is repeatable, scalable and focused on building enterprise value, so we can apply it to any investment project we might consider today or in the future.

What areas of emerging technology is LS&Co. considering when it thinks of its digital transformation efforts?

We worked with subject matter experts and functional leaders across our business to narrow down priorities in two key areas. Our emerging technology framework is focused on collaboratively evaluating investments in Web 3.0 and Industrial 4.0 innovations that are of value for both consumers and our business performance. Web 3.0 is blurring the boundary between digital content and physical objects as we’ve known them — and it’s transforming how consumers interact with brands. And industrial 4.0 advancements are focused on innovation across design, manufacturing and supply chain.

We’ve particularly zeroed-in on elements of the consumer journey where we’ve identified the opportunity to optimize shopping experiences. Speaking as a shopper — and this is something that I imagine most of us have experienced at one time or another — I can attest to how daunting it can feel to find my best fit and size in any given clothing category. The experience of how that comes to life online is expanding and becoming more interactive — and lots of technology companies are building amazing solutions. That’s one of the many examples of where we could consider strategic partnerships to make shopping for your favorite Levi’s® products a memorable, personal and fun experience.

Can you share a bit more about how you’re actively going after these partnership opportunities?

To complement the innovation and invention that’s continuously happening in-house, we’re always considering partnerships that could help us accelerate our digital transformation ambitions. And our framework is allowing us to be more systematic and cross-functionally integrated when considering investment opportunities, with input from key subject matter experts from across our business.

To strengthen our connection to the international start-up community, we recently partnered with Silicon Valley Bank to launch our first-ever Start-up Pitch Day, which took place in early September. There we heard from executives from leading edge digital and emerging technology companies headquartered in cities across the U.S., as well as from cities such as Prague, London, Paris and Tel-Aviv; that diversity continues to be very important to us as we look to the future. We evaluated thousands of companies to select the ones invited to present, carefully reviewing their technology, their business and their ability to accelerate key strategic initiatives within our business.

What’s next in terms of areas of investment for LS&Co.?

We anticipate making our Start-up Pitch Day an annual event, with another Start-Up Pitch Day planned for 2023, again in partnership with Silicon Valley Bank. With these events, we hope to build on our relationship with the global start-up community and analyze the right opportunities against our framework. All of this is in service to our strategic priorities of being brand-led, being direct-to consumer first and diversifying our portfolio. We’re laser-focused on ensuring that every opportunity we explore supports those priorities and our ability to win with consumers.