The Story of a Founder, His Company, and Social Pioneers

Levi Strauss & Co.
July 1, 2015

Levi Strauss Foundation’s Daniel Lee takes the stage at MCON

How can we equip a new generation of social pioneers for a modern frontier? This was the question Daniel Lee, executive director of the Levi Strauss Foundation posed to attendees at last week’s Movements Conference (MCON).

The two-day conference was focused on inspiring the next generation of leaders passionate about social good to become future cause leaders and activists.


During his remarks, Daniel told three stories to help inspire thinking around his question. Together, Daniel said, these stories speak to a spirit and a distinctive point of view that guides Levi Strauss & Co.’s engagement with the millennial consumer.

  • A founder: Levi Strauss, an immigrant from Bavaria, moved to California and partnered with a tailor named Jacob Davis to create an innovation — “riveted overalls” — that would eventually give rise to the original denim jean. In addition to being a successful businessman, Levi Strauss was also a dedicated philanthropist who supported a variety of causes.
  • His company: The same pioneering spirit kindled by Levi Strauss is woven into the fabric of LS&Co., and guides how we do business and how we show up in the community. Today, the company is guided by four values that inform everything we do: originality, empathy, integrity, and courage. Along the way, we haven’t been afraid to take bold stands on the issues of our day. Our products, public policy advocacy, media and marketing presence, and community engagement have created ripples and groundswells with far-reaching impacts.
  • Social pioneers: LS&Co.’s legacy of giving gives us license to do pioneering acts, but also to actively support modern-day pioneers through the Levi Strauss Foundation. Through Pioneers in Justice, a five-year initiative of LSF, the foundation is working with next-generation leaders of bedrock civil rights organizations in San Francisco. The program supports their work in two overarching areas: embracing the new technological tools of the day and driving breakthrough forms of collaboration — reaching across sectors, engaging influencers and mobilizing both likely and unlikely allies.

Daniel’s stories illustrate how a simple innovation — the copper rivet — has inspired LS&Co. and its consumers to stand at the forefront of social and cultural change for more than 160 years. It’s that same pioneering spirit that will keep the company relevant for the next 160 years — and, hopefully, allow us to inspire and equip more pioneers along the way.

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