Dial the clock back a few years and Levi's was just another Big American Brand rapidly losing marketshare to other major labels and niche denim brands. Today (approximately one global financial crisis later) the San Francisco, CA-based clothier is mid-comeback with numbers to prove it and an unfolding multitiered campaign fueling the upswing. Of their various billboards, collaborations and promotions all under the banner "Ready to Work Go Forth™" the artistry-led workshops might not seem like such a big deal. But after visiting both the first S.F. printmaking installment earlier this year and the current photography version in NYC, I am hugely impressed by not just how well-executed they are but by the sense that there's some real heart behind the project. To find out the backstory, we checked in with Levi's head of Collaborations, Partnerships and Creative Concepts, Joshua Katz, who filled us in on what it's like working with the brand, the power of community, and what drives the different identities of each workshop.
Where San Francisco's event drew on the "precious objects" culture that makes printmaking thrive there, the ten-week-long NYC edition is more about the democratic nature of photography and how it's "interwoven into everything" in the city. As such, there's a little something for everyone in the massive space (formerly Deitch Gallery) with digital and vintage Leica cameras, other vintage camera brands, digital technicians, photo assistants, a printing center and light box, as well as exhibitions and installations. Collaborators include photographer and curator Tim Barber, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, master photographer Bruce Davidson, chef April Bloomfield, and photography publisher Hamburger Eyes. Launched last night with an event featuring droves of guests, a photobooth, lots of drinks, and DJ duo Chances with Wolves, Katz explains, "the reason a lot of brands don't do this is because it's hard, it's tiring."
The payoff of course is "if you make that extra effort, people can believe in it." Or in other words, their success comes from embracing hard work and community as core values from the top down. "There are fundamental philosophies that don't change," says Katz. "The [brands] that stick around are people who recognize that they are part of a community." In addition to opening its doors to artists, community groups and non-profits, all proceeds from sales of Levi's goods (including the exclusive Trucker Jacket, pictured) and camera-related items will go to NYC-based charitable organizations Harvey Milk High School, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Edible Schoolyard New York.
Comparing his current job to his previous work with Quicksilver, Katz describes his own thinking on brands as having "a certain obligation to the people that wear them, to continue to solve their problems through products and be responsible members of their community."
And as for Katz' own role in that community? "I'm still a geek, I'm still a fan...photography is a way to ground me and remind me, capture some of those moments, and record what I do." Where he'll be documenting next as the project continues is still under wraps, though it shouldn't come as any surprise that it will have something to do with music.