As with all good stories, you have to start at the beginning. But sometimes the beginning goes way, way back.
In 1750, sailors in Bombay purchased a thick indigo-dyed cotton cloth near a fort called Dongri.
The material was taken to Italy where it inspired an industry that exported a similar material out of Genoa. This came to be known as blue de Genes, or “Genoa Blue,” which was made into pants and came to be called “blue jeans.” A related fabric was known as “Serge de Nimes” after the French port from which the term “denim” derives.
In the late 1840s, a struggling Bavarian immigrant in the bowels of the garment district in Brooklyn envisioned a use for a few bolts of such fabric sitting idly on his shelf. Aware of the gold rush taking place in California, he directed his brother to tend the New York store as he bravely began the arduous journey by ship down the Atlantic coast of the United States. The Panama Canal hadn’t been built yet so he made his way across the Isthmus of Panama by walking, riding a mule, taking a train or boat ride or a combination of all these until he reached the Pacific Ocean where he boarded a ship bound for San Francisco.
Before he departed Brooklyn, he had sewn small rivets into the pants, anticipating the miners would need the strongest pants possible to work continuously in searching for gold. When he got to California, he went directly into those mines hawking his pants that became such an instant success they were the only work pants worn in the mines after that.
That patented rivet design is what made his company eminently successful.
That man’s name was Levi Strauss. What began as a desperate journey relying on hope and faith turned into the presence of a quintessential garment worn by nearly everybody at some point in life, whether we called them dungarees (Dongri), blue jeans (Genoa Blue) or denims (Serge de Nimes.)
Collectively, they came to be called simply, Levis.
The recently built NFL stadium in Santa Clara housing the San Francisco 49ers proudly displays the name, “Levi’s Stadium,” in tribute to an impoverished immigrant who saw a chance for a better life all the way across a challenging country and went after it. It is appropriate that the stadium is simply called “Levi’s.” Research showed he preferred that everyone call him by his first name alone.
Today, Levi Strauss and Company pays the NFL $10,000,000 per year for those naming rights, clearly showing Levi’s commitment to his fellow Californians in allowing them to enjoy their 49ers in a state-of-the-art facility so aptly connected to the historic 1849 gold rush.
Somewhere Levi Strauss is looking down at that field with great pride and admiration.