At the National Retail Federation’s 2018 convention in New York City, Levi Strauss & Co. Brand President James Curleigh told those assembled that the multinational pants manufacturer intends to be the “most relevant lifestyle brand.” Evidently, part of creating that “lifestyle” includes foisting a doctrinaire set of political beliefs onto its employees and customers.
Last Fall, NRA-ILA informed gun owners that Levi’s (also the maker of Dockers) had declared that it would openly advocate for restricting the right to keep and bear arms. CEO Chip Bergh announced that the company had joined the business wing of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s gun control conglomerate, Everytown Business Leaders for Gun Safety. Further, the company donated $1 million to gun control groups, including Everytown and Giffords. The company’s recent anti-gun advocacy efforts were in line with the firm’s support for a gun control effort in the 1990s that called for “licensing and registration of guns” and a ban on commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms.
Continuing on its gun control crusade, on May 9 the company used its “Unzipped” blog to publish an interview and hagiography of Everytown press agent Shannon Watts. According to the post, Watts had visited the pants manufacturer’s San Francisco headquarters to speak to the company’s employees.
In the blog item, Levi’s does its best to advance the folksy persona Watts has perpetuated of a political neophyte who was spurred to action following the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn. The first paragraph of the piece noted,
Before she became the face of one of the nation’s largest grassroots movements to combat gun violence, Shannon Watts had never stepped foot into a statehouse or shown up for a rally.
In the interview portion, the Levi’s employee asked Watts,
What advice do you have for those who want to make an impact on an issue that is important to them, yet aren’t sure how their sole voice can make a difference?
I think I am living proof that someone who has no experience as an activist can make a difference – I was just a really angry mom of five living in Indiana when I got off the sidelines…
The mislabeling of Bloomberg’s “top—down bureaucracy” as a “grassroots movement” aside, the claim that Watts had never stepped foot in a statehouse prior to 2013 is especially curious. As NRA and others have pointed out, in the mid-1990s Watts was a public relations staffer to Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan. Watts’s Linkedin page listed that from 1993-1998 she had been a “Public Affairs Officer” who “Worked for the administration of Governor Mel Carnahan, the Missouri House of Representatives, and the Missouri Department of Economic Development.”
Is it likely that a person who held such positions never set foot in the Missouri State Capitol? It is certainly inaccurate to portray a person who worked as a public affairs officer for a governor as a political novice. The Levi’s piece also conspicuously failed to mention how Watts’s days as a public relations employee for corporations such as General Electric, Bayer, and Monsanto might have helped prepare Watts to sell Bloomberg’s gun control agenda to ill-informed segments of the public.
The perpetual retelling of the dishonest Watts biography is strong evidence that gun control backers see political advantage in portraying the gun controller as a guileless amateur rather than a calculating public relations professional. Unlike the news outlets that perpetuate the Watts origin myth, Levi’s is under no professional obligation to get the facts right. Still, after the thorough debunking of the Watts fable by the Washington Post, one might have expected the truth to prevail.
Levi’s modern efforts to create a “lifestyle” brand appear at odds with earlier iterations of the company ethos, which stressed a rugged individualism. A former Levi’s slogan read: “Original jeans. Original people.” There’s nothing individualist or original about conforming to the political edicts of a multinational corporation in league with a septuagenarian billionaire financier and his public relations frontwoman.