In a fashion-forward power move, Levi Strauss & Co., the iconic jeans juggernaut, has announced Michelle Gass as its new commander-in-chief, set to take the helm from the denim veteran Chip Bergh. This seismic shift in leadership marks a new chapter for the brand that’s been clothing the world in blue since 1853.
Gass, who’s swapping Kohl’s cash registers for Levi’s riveted jeans, is stepping into the CEO role on January 29, with Bergh slated to hang up his proverbial spurs on April 26. But don’t expect Bergh to vanish into the sunset just yet – he’s sticking around as a senior adviser until November 2024, ensuring a smooth transition of power.
Levi’s, a brand as American as apple pie, now faces the challenge of navigating choppy economic waters. The company, with a global footprint in over 110 countries, reported a revenue of $6.2 billion in 2022. However, it’s not all sunny skies and high sales; the denim giant is grappling with a decline in wholesale sales as jittery retailers trim inventory levels, eyeing the economic horizon with caution.
Under Bergh’s decade-long reign, Levi Strauss underwent a metamorphosis, shifting from a wholesale-focused business to a direct-to-consumer model. Bergh’s tenure also saw a surge in the women’s business, which now rakes in about 35% of the company’s revenue. He also steered the ship through an IPO in March 2019 and the acquisition of Beyond Yoga in 2021, expanding Levi’s fashion empire.
In steps Gass, a retail maven with a Midas touch, known for her partnerships with giants like Amazon.com and Sephora during her time at Kohl’s. She’s credited with revamping Kohl’s merchandise mix, dropping underperforming brands like a hot potato. However, her departure from Kohl’s was shadowed by sales declines and pressure from activist investors, with the department store’s stock price taking a nosedive.
Bergh has expressed his full confidence in Gass, lauding her innovation, impact, and passion for the business. But Gass isn’t just stepping into any old pair of jeans; she’s sliding into a role steeped in history and expectation. With Levi’s shares down about 7% over the past year, Gass’s leadership will be key in stitching together a strategy for growth amidst economic uncertainties.
As Gass gears up to take the reins of this denim dynasty, all eyes are on her to see if she can tailor Levi’s to fit the ever-changing fashion landscape. Will she be able to weave together a tapestry of success, or will she find herself hemmed in by the challenges that lie ahead? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain – the denim world is watching, riveted by the possibilities.