Exploring the Origin Story of Denim

Levi Strauss & Co.
May 5, 2015

Whether they’re purchasing apparel to wear, food to eat, or products for everyday life, today’s consumers have a mind-boggling number of options available. Case in point: a search for “jeans” on Amazon yields nearly 200,000 results.

“People are faced with a dense forest of choices these days.” says Jonathan Cheung, SVP of global design for the Levi’s® brand. “Meaning and values like honesty, quality, authenticity and social responsibility become more important, and can help people make choices that fit their own personal values.”

Jonathan recently served on a panel of judges in the Future of Denim Branding competition by Avery Dennison Retail Branding and Information Solutions. The contest for undergraduate and graduate students was designed to challenge the way the industry thinks about denim branding. Entrants were tasked with designing the branding for a five-pocket jean, and their submissions clearly showed that attributes like sustainability and social responsibility are top-of-mind for next generation designers.

“As a designer, your work should be to make things better,” Jonathan said. “It’s like a designer’s Hippocratic oath — design things to help make life better, to enrich and move our species forward.”

The winning project, designed by Stefanie Tschirky from Royal College of Art UK, endeavors to do just that. Stefanie’s project, entitled “Your Story — Your Denim,” examines the origin story of denim before it reaches the hands of the consumer. The branding concept features many details, including the distance the denim travels from creation to display in-store and the name of the designer. Now, Stefanie will have the opportunity to bring her design and branding to life through an internship with Avery Dennison RBIS.

The aspiring designer was happy to share a little bit more about her background and her project with us:

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m 24 years old and I grew up in a beautiful, small village in Switzerland. Five years ago, I moved to study fashion design in London at Kingston University. I’m currently a first year MA fashion design womenswear student at the Royal College of Art in London; I’ll graduate in June 2016.

How did you become interested in fashion design?

My interest in fashion design developed over the years. I think I was lucky to be a child in a time when not many people had mobile phones or Internet and I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of TV. So my brother and I kept ourselves busy with sports, playing in the garden and being creative. I drew a lot and started to make little changes to the clothes I was wearing — and my interest in fashion started to grow. I read fashion design books; visited design exhibitions in Zurich; and I did my first few design internships in Switzerland. Since I was  about 13 years old, my big dream was to become a fashion designer.

Professionally, what are you most proud of and why?

I’m very proud to be a student at the Royal College of Art in London. My dream was always to study there, but at the same time, I knew it would be really competitive to get accepted into the school. I’m lucky to be a student at such a prestigious university. So far it has been the best experience. I’ve been pushed to take more risks, make mistakes, explore, try new techniques, and find new materials. It’s all about finding and defining your own language. It helped a lot to develop my identity as a fashion designer and I’m really excited to explore it further over the next year.

I’m also really proud (and excited) to be the winner of the Future of Denim Branding Competition. From the internship, to developing my denim branding concept even further, to gaining the opportunity to learn more about the innovation at Avery Dennison RBIS, to an exciting trip to LA! It’s an amazing chance and I still can’t believe the panel of judges selected my concept.

How does the concept of “sustainable apparel” figure into your design process?

The sustainable aspect was really important for me in the ‘Your Story-Your Denim’ project. It’s all about organic denim, good quality and social responsibility. A feature of the branding concept is that a seamstress of the factory who is working on the jean signs the jean, including the country. The same will be with the cotton picker, the person who worked on the weaving process of the denim, designer and in the end – the owner.

With this feature, I want to make the consumer aware of how much work goes into a pair of jeans, how many people worked on it, how far it travelled, and how many resources I used to produce that pair of jeans. The fashion industry is working at such a fast-pace and consumers do not value their garments anymore because its one of many. I want to slow this down by giving more value to each garment and each person who worked on it. I try to achieve this with personalizing the jean and letting the contributors tell the story.

What’s your Levi’s story?

I got my first pair of Levi’s from a vintage store when I moved to London. They are shorts and I wore them to all of the music festivals over the summer. For me, they are a memorable pair because of all the great moments I had during my first summer in London.

If your jeans could talk, what would they say about you?

A girl from the mountains with a smile on her face!


Here are a few images of Stefanie’s project:

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