Levi Strauss & Co. Pioneers in Justice Talk Social Change

Levi Strauss & Co.
July 5, 2016

Most companies have put a lot of effort over the last several years trying to engage millennial consumers. But engaging this demographic presents a unique challenge. It is well documented that millennials, unlike generations that came before, are not as influenced by traditional marketing – they engage with companies on social media, they value authenticity in brands and they expect companies to contribute positively to society.
These last two expectations – authenticity and contributing to society – are sewn into the fabric of Levi Strauss & Co. We invented the blue jean, and for over 164 years we have contributed positively to society through how we make our products and how we give back to the community where we live and work.
Authenticity and contributing positively to society are also what influenced the Levi Strauss Foundation to sponsor MCON, an annual gathering of leaders, activists and social entrepreneurs seeking to find innovative solutions for social issues.
This year’s conference was held last week at the National Geographic Society in Washington DC. Hundreds of attendees gathered on-site for the three-day event and more than 20,000 more watched live via webcast.
True to our core focus, the Levi Strauss Foundation sponsored a social justice series and invited three pioneering grantees to share how their organizations are working on the frontiers of social change:
Laurindo Garcia, spoke about his work as founder of B-Change Group, a social enterprise that leverages data gathered through social media and apps to enhance advocacy and improve lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people (LGBTI), as well as people living with HIV.
Laurindo painted a vivid picture of life for those most stigmatized in Asian society by sharing three stories; of lesbians in Manila asking for advice after being turned away from job interviews because they were perceived as too masculine; trans women in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta wanting to know where they can break the “glass ceiling” and find jobs beyond sex work, make-up, hair or entertainment; and Gay or bisexual men in Singapore and Bangkok asking for clinics where they can feel comfortable to talk honestly about sexual health.
“You have an opportunity to help to guide our expansion. We want to hear from you,” said Laurindo, asking for a call-to-action from the crowd. “Tell us which towns and cities you believe our work should reach…now is the time to work together and put inclusion on the map.”
Ayesha Barenblat, founder of Remake, talked about her organization which is building a conscious consumer movement through storytelling to improve and shape the lives of people who make our clothes.
She talked about how our clothes are made today – driven largely by fast fashion trends, where we buy more and pay less for cheaper quality clothing that barely lasts a season. Where corners are cut, often at the expense of workers. She then spoke of “the maker,” a story of hope of the 40 million, mostly women, who make our clothes. Women, who don’t want our pity, but simply want us to know who she is
She ended her talk with the story of the millennial: the new face of America who is more racially diverse than ever before and understands how to use technology to access information, and whose collective buying power has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions of women.
Ayesha urged everyone to be curious about their purchases, ask questions, buy better (durable over disposable) and to influence models, designers and celebrities to further a social justice agenda. She specifically called on one of the most iconic celebrities of our time, Beyoncé, to use her power as a feminist, activist and now fashion designer for Ivy Park, her own line of clothing, to “Get in Formation” for the maker.
Ayesha was joined on stage by Chris Punongbayan, the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, the nation’s oldest Asian American public interest law organization whose mission is the pursuit of equality and fairness for all sectors of society.
In his talk, Chris shared how race is top of mind for so many Americans. Movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ has taken the country by storm and this presidential race is the most racially charged that we’ve seen in life times.
But Chris also noted that there is a “sleeping giant” whose voices are still not yet heard quite as loudly on these issues of racial inclusion and equity, and that is the voice of Asian Americans. According to the Pew Center, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the country – who by 2018 will have $1 trillion in buying power. Asian Americans are also the most digitally connected racial group in America.

Chris shared his belief that in the face of so many deep racial divides that continue to plague us, Asian Americans can be key players in determining the outcome of so many struggles. Chris concluded by sharing that by 2040, people of color will be the majority for the first time in American history, but he also challenged the audience to be mindful that “Demographics do not equal destiny. Only when progressives unite to form the majority will we be able to move the change agenda that our country so deeply needs.”
Many in the largely millennial audience shared with me personally and through social media, that the messages from Laurindo, Ayesha and Chris were among the most powerful they heard at the conference. The Levi Strauss Foundation is deeply honored to partner with these amazing pioneers and also grateful to MCON for giving them an influential stage to tell their stories.