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Site Visit: Levi’s Print Workshop In The Mission

Site Visit: Levi’s Print Workshop In The Mission
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In San Francisco, the denim maker has established a workspace to collaborate on creative projects with the community.

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 19 july 2010

As part of their workwear promotion, jeans maker Levi’s have started a series of workshop programs to engage the local communities. It’s part of the company’s Go Forth marketing campaign where it hopes to pay homage to the principles of hard work and civic engagement. The aim is to help people experience rather than be told about the values of the denim brand.

PSFK stumbled upon the temporary print shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission district on a recent visit to the city and we were lucky enough to arrange a tour the next day by the Levi’s Workshops Programming Director Adam Katz.

Katz is an independent creative that works with brands to develop what he calls sincere experiences for people. As the company was founded on Sacramento Street in 1853, Levi’s already has a strong affiliation with the city. Katz and his team wanted to create something that was socially elevated where artists and the brand could come together without compromise.

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Throughout the workshops are various printing presses, screen printing and even a photocopier. Katz explained:

“The copier is just as valid as the older machines. We aren’t here to fetishize older machinery. We are here to work. Much of the preparation is done on Apple Macs.”

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The aim here is to work with local artists and collaborators to execute craft and introduce print work to the neighborhood. Collaborators are working with the teams at the workshop to produce community based projects. The chef Alice Waters is creating posters for the Edible Schoolyard project; web entrepreneur Craig Newmark is working on a public domain remix project; and the San Francisco Giants have worked with Shepard Fairey on producing cards where football players explain to a young audience their charitable work off the pitch and in various communities.

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While the public can watch the work being done on Tuesdays through to Saturdays, on Sundays they can take a bench and work on their own printing projects. There are also various workshops for people to attend.

In the corner of the space are Levi’s workwear garments, of course. All are for sale with a credit card or PayPal. All proceeds are sent to charities in the Mission including Plaza Adelante, Southern Exposure and The Women’s Building.

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The Mission neighborhood seems to be fiercely independent of big brands. Recently, another popular brand was stopped from opening a store. American Apparel abandoned plans to have a store in the Mission after a sizable protest was organized against it. We asked Katz about the local reaction.

We went to the community first and talked to them about it. We explained how we’d like to involve and educate the community. When they were on board, everyone else seemed to accept us. The workshop is only going to be here for two month’s too which helps.

That’s not to say that some locals do have a knee-jerk reaction against the idea of a Levi’s experience but they don’t criticize the workshop – it’s more complaints about how Levi’s sources globally rather than in the USA.

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Along with the careful community collaboration, Levi’s were conscious about the impact their workshop might have on existing print businesses and invited them in. When they leave after two months, they hope the community will continue to produce work with local suppliers.

A spokesperson told us that the Levi’s Workshop was a response to the pop-up store phenomenon and a way to localize the brand. Levi’s are going to learn from the experience here and take subtle ideas into their other stores. Groups of head office staff have been given guided tours so the ideas held within the experience begin to transfer internally and hopefully change the way some folks think about retail and brand experience internally at Levi’s.

Katz maintained that he was an independent art curator and not a spokesperson for the Levi’s brand but he did say that alongside other community collaboration endeavors, a brand-initiated program should be considered as another valuable way for organizing resources to drive creative production and cultural exchange:

I currently see an incredible opportunity for brands to become important players in a cultural sphere by embracing the role of “sincere patron.”  Consumers are savvy: hip to marketing machinations and bored by advertising.  The most inspiring thing a brand can do is to stop mining existing cultural attitudes and start driving creative production – to engage both pioneers and the public in a participatory fashion.  This is what Levi’s is doing with the Workshops.

It is a natural extension of the brand’s longstanding investment in the art/music/design worlds, and an opportunity to expand on the company’s genuine commitment to positive social change and community support.

The next project will be a photographic workshop in Manhattan, followed by a recording studio in an unannounced US city. Companies can become patrons of local cultural development.

Levi’s Workshop, 580 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

Click the gallery images below to view the rest of the images from our visit to the Levi’s Workshop:

Levi’s

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