Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Self made man: Levi Strauss

"Find A Need and Fill It"

Napoleon Hill, in his 1960 book Think and Grow Rich, discussed the concept of creativity and wealth. His watchword is "Find a need and fill it." Levi Strauss embodied this concept by creating durable pants, which made him a fortune and created a clothing empire that still exists today. The characteristics of the self made man include creativity, hard work, and individuality. The self made man came to America with nothing and created success. Levi Strauss embodies this American myth because he used his creativity and hard work to build an empire and gain success and wealth after coming to America as a poor immigrant. Strauss changes the myth of the self made man when he became a philanthropist and gave back to other Americans to help them get a leg up in society and gain equality when it was not required of him. This demonstrates that the self-made man, along with the wealthy elite of America, has the responsibility to bring up the struggling poor in society.

Levi Strauss was born in Bavaria, modern day Germany. He was one of the many who immigrated to New York in 1847. In 1853 Strauss officially became an American citizen and with news of the California Gold Rush found his way to San Francisco. The gold rush lead many people to move west to find their fortunes. When Strauss first arrived in San Francisco he worked as a merchant selling external image jeans.jpgdried goods, clothing, and umbrellas to the Gold Miners because his older brothers started a similar goods store in New York City. Strauss saw that the miners were in need of a sturdy pair of pants that could bear the burden of gold mining for hours on end. At first Strauss used pieces of canvas for pants because that was the strongest material used in the late 1800's, but the miners complained of chaffing. During this time America was trading heavily with France and Strauss used a cotton fabric imported from France that he dyed indigo blue and called "Denim." Strauss used metal rivets to hold the pants together to prevent tearing at the stress points. This was problematic because the miners were out in the hot sun and the metal rivets absorbed sunlight, became too hot, and burned their skin. Along with the help of a friend, David Jacobs, Strauss used copper rivets and patented his popular product that took on the name Levi's, which is still used today. The image at the right shows a woman working in a Levi Strauss factory sewing jeans. Strauss' creativity allowed him to use available technology and give jobs to women to promote his new hit product. The original factory may not seem like much today, but back then this was a revolutionary business adventure. Strauss' creative invention became a symbol of the American West and gave America the reputation of being independent and creative. This sparked the concept that America was the land of opportunity irrespective of class standing, education, or origins, where immigrants can create success and wealth.

The idea that Levi Strauss immigrated to America and built an empire by manufacturing denim jeans, that were known external image 415.jpgas work pants at the time, proves that he is the self made man through is hard work. His hard work and perseverance lead him to establish Levi Strauss and Co. in 1866. His company and his legacy are still well known today and have spread to other parts of the world. The blue jeans with the copper rivets themselves became a symbol of strength and hard work. The image of the man in the Levi Strauss advertisement has a sturdy stance and is holding a pickaxe, a symbol of the hard workingman, who is hacking at the land for life and wealth. He is dressed in denim, promoting the idea that the hard laborious work he is doing can be done when wearing the proper sturdy attire. The jeans, when first created, were made for the mineworkers of the American West during the California Gold Rush. Mine workers had taken the risk of leaving their homes in hopes that their time in the rugged mines would pay off when they struck gold. The jeans he created had to be sturdy enough to withstand the long, hard hours working in the mines, at a price that workers, who had yet to strike gold, can afford. Levi Strauss’ hard work led to a self made man’s astounding empire and created a product that maintained and promoted equality among rich and poor alike.

An iconic image of America, the jeans created by Levi Strauss and Company represented the bridging of classes. Starting out in the 1800's, the gold miners were Strauss' primary customers. During the 1950’s with the onset of rock and roll music, jeans became a fashion statement and less of a working class staple. At this point, stores began to stock Levi's jeans and they became a must have item in all American households. Commercials epitomized Levi's jeans as a wave of the future type of clothing, which created frenzy amongst youth of different generations, promoting a sense of equality as seen in the 1970's Levi's commercial below. The appeal of Levis to the lower class was that they were durable and long lasting. The affordability of Levis shattered the idea that there was a restriction, based on class, for what clothing people can wear. Today celebrities, men, women, and children wear jeans, which splinters the original image of a one-dimensional product and company.

Jeans were versatile and worn by different classes of people. Due to this, jeans symbolized freedom. As a pant, which men and women could wear in the 1950’s, they also brought genders on to the same level. In the 1960's, young people protested racial inequality and the Vietnam War. Blue jeans were an integral part of the attire of American youth. College students wore them at protests and musical concerts, characterizing the students as rebellious because such a casual jean fought against the conformity of the time. Strauss came to America with a vision to gain success and in turn he used his success to bring up the common man create an atmosphere of equality through Levis jeans. Therefore Strauss let the common man know that lower class people were equal to the higher class people. Strauss made a product that any person could wear and buy. By creating something for the poor working man and letting it transform into a fashion statement, Strauss changed the image of the self made man by not just creating a product that would sell, but a product that was needed, useful, and affordable to many struggling people. Strauss set the bar for his company to follow after his death, and today the company has made great strides in business as well as helping others in the community.

Levi Strauss went above and beyond the stereotype of a self-made man. He took that next step and gave back to the community in many ways. Not only did he create scholarships and charities, but he also was an active member of his community. His compassion and giving nature made Strauss stand out. Strauss was a contributor to the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home, the Eureka Benevolent Society and the Hebrew Board of Relief. In 1897 Strauss provided the funds for twenty-eight scholarships at the University of California, Berkeley. The way Strauss was a part of and gave back to the community showed that he had true compassion and was not only acting for individual success. The Strauss company today, focuses on corporate citizenship as well as philanthropic work. Strauss insisted that his employees call him Levi insteadDSC_1958.jpg of Mr. Strauss. These acts of kindness help paint Strauss as a kind and giving man who changed the self made man tradition. This idea of giving back to the community and being a conscious corporate citizen is what Strauss embodied and the typical image of the self made man does not. This picture illustrates the effort of the company to help better communities. This particular photograph specifically depicts ethnic minorities, in order to show the company's diversity. The company has multiple foundations aimed at helping women and youth as well.

Levi Strauss embodies the image of the self made man because of his creativity and hard work of pushing a new product that was needed at the time. He came to America with very little and through hard work, creativity, and individuality Strauss built an empire that manufactured a product that is the most popular pant in America today. However, what sets him apart from other self-made men is that he felt responsible for helping other Americans and helped bring up others in society by sharing his wealth. Jeans not only represent the working man's pant, but the American pant, worn by rich and poor alike as well as spread abroad to where other countries who embrace American clothing. As quoted by the San Francisco Board of Trade about Levi Strauss, "The great causes of education and charity have likewise suffered a signal loss the death of Mr. Strauss, whose splendid endowments to the University of California will be an enduring testimonial of his worth as a liberal, public-minded citizen and whose numberless unostentatious acts of charity in which neither race nor creed were recognized, exemplified his broad and generous love for and sympathy with humanity."DSC_1958.jpg



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