No more Levi's - help me find new jeans that meet my standards
January 15, 2004 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Now that Levi's are no longer made in the U.S. what American-made jeans, similar in quality, durability and style should European diehards buy? [More inside.]

Yes, there is an enormous difference - even Canadian Levi's are made of a thinner and less durable denim. European (British and Irish included) and Asian versions are even worse and flimsier. Really bad. I know from extensive experience, so please don't fob me off.

Like many of my boring-old-fart ex-hippy friends, I've worn US-made Levi's 501s for more than 30 years (lately ordered via the Web) and am dreading the inevitable switch. I'm looking for stiff, thick, no-nonsense American-made jeans (the kind that takes at least a year to break in) that will withstand everything you can put them through, preferably not as stiff, ungiving and unstylish as work jeans, but along those lines in terms of uncompromising timelessness and, above all, durability, comfort, and general robustness of denim, rivetting and stitching. They must also look good. Do I have a chance in hell? If not, what's second-best?
posted by MiguelCardoso to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by vito90 at 3:29 PM on January 15, 2004

Do what has been a fad in Japan for some time, vintage Levi's. The cost are enormous though. [looks in parents closet]
posted by thomcatspike at 3:32 PM on January 15, 2004

Wrangler might work for you, mig-- the quality is not as good but the heft of the denim feels the same, depending on the style. (or Lee, but they have horrible commercials with a little puppet guy.) I don't think either are made here tho.
posted by amberglow at 3:38 PM on January 15, 2004

LL Bean jeans are great. Three different cuts to choose from and they're comfy and durable. I'm 30, and I still have a pair from college. I don't know where they're manufactured, but some of Bean's staples are still made in New England.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:53 PM on January 15, 2004

I suggest you look at hempwear alternatives, Migs. They last a lot longer than denim, from what I hear.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:04 PM on January 15, 2004

For durability, roominess, and quasi-prole slumming it, Carhartt (although they are kind of work jeans).
posted by carter at 4:06 PM on January 15, 2004

posted by keswick at 4:32 PM on January 15, 2004

Oops, scratch Lee and Texas Jeans!
posted by y2karl at 4:41 PM on January 15, 2004

Levi's, sadly, have been shit for almost a decade. I, too, am seeking a viable alternative. :::checks out links:::
posted by rushmc at 7:06 PM on January 15, 2004

Trendy and pricey but good quality jeans.
posted by anathema at 7:08 PM on January 15, 2004

I don't know where they're manufactured

They're made expressly for Bean by a "famous name manufacturer" (i.e. Lee Jeans), with Bean-approved fabric and cut to Bean spec. Interestingly, Lee does a huge amount of work making "private label" brand jeans for all sorts of retail and catalog companies.
Please don't ask me why I know that. I'd have to kill you. :-)
posted by anastasiav at 8:55 PM on January 15, 2004

Cannot go wrong with Carhartt. As little as ten years ago I seem to remember them making only work pants and overalls, some flame retardant, some insulated. No cellphone pockets back then either. Not uncommon to go hunting in Carhartts. The blue jeans and shorts and want not are fairly new additions. I remember being in some store in Manhattan seeing Carhartt shorts and simply not understanding what work one would do in shorts. It slowly dawned on me that you wouldn't do work in shorts.

Dickies are low-rent Carhartts. Not made to last, big with skaters because they were cheap.

Lucky are actually good jeans, last forever, but jesus. Wait til you find a pair on clearance. At least I remember them being good. Haven't owned a pair in a long while.
posted by raaka at 10:20 PM on January 15, 2004

A pertinent tale from here:

Levi's launch into Wal-Mart came the same summer the clothes maker celebrated its 150th birthday. For a century and a half, one of the most recognizable names in American commerce had survived without Wal-Mart. But in October 2002, when Levi Strauss and Wal-Mart announced their engagement, Levi was shrinking rapidly. The pressure on Levi goes back 25 years--well before Wal-Mart was an influence. Between 1981 and 1990, Levi closed 58 U.S. manufacturing plants, sending 25% of its sewing overseas.

Sales for Levi peaked in 1996 at $7.1 billion. By last year, they had spiraled down six years in a row, to $4.1 billion; through the first six months of 2003, sales dropped another 3%. This one account--selling jeans to Wal-Mart--could almost instantly revive Levi.

Last year, Wal-Mart sold more clothing than any other retailer in the country. It also sold more pairs of jeans than any other store. Wal-Mart's own inexpensive house brand of jeans, Faded Glory, is estimated to do $3 billion in sales a year, a house brand nearly the size of Levi Strauss. Perhaps most revealing in terms of Levi's strategic blunders: In 2002, half the jeans sold in the United States cost less than $20 a pair. That same year, Levi didn't offer jeans for less than $30.

For much of the last decade, Levi couldn't have qualified to sell to Wal-Mart. Its computer systems were antiquated, and it was notorious for delivering clothes late to retailers. Levi admitted its on-time delivery rate was 65%. When it announced the deal with Wal-Mart last year, one fashion-industry analyst bluntly predicted Levi would simply fail to deliver the jeans.

But Levi Strauss has taken to the Wal-Mart Way with the intensity of a near-death religious conversion--and Levi's executives were happy to talk about their experience getting ready to sell at Wal-Mart. One hundred people at Levi's headquarters are devoted to the new business; another 12 have set up in an office in Bentonville, near Wal-Mart's headquarters, where the company has hired a respected veteran Wal-Mart sales account manager.

Getting ready for Wal-Mart has been like putting Levi on the Atkins diet. It has helped everything--customer focus, inventory management, speed to market. It has even helped other retailers that buy Levis, because Wal-Mart has forced the company to replenish stores within two days instead of Levi's previous five-day cycle.

And so, Wal-Mart might rescue Levi Strauss. Except for one thing.

Levi didn't actually have any clothes it could sell at Wal-Mart. Everything was too expensive. It had to develop a fresh line for mass retailers: the Levi Strauss Signature brand, featuring Levi Strauss's name on the back of the jeans.

Two months after the launch, Levi basked in the honeymoon glow. Overall sales, after falling for the first six months of 2003, rose 6% in the third quarter; profits in the summer quarter nearly doubled. All, Levi's CEO said, because of Signature.

"They are all very rational people. And they had a good point. Everyone was willing to pay more for a Master Lock. But how much more can they justify?"
But the low-end business isn't a business Levi is known for, or one it had been particularly interested in. It's also a business in which Levi will find itself competing with lean, experienced players such as VF and Faded Glory. Levi's makeover might so improve its performance with its non-Wal-Mart suppliers that its established business will thrive, too. It is just as likely that any gains will be offset by the competitive pressures already dissolving Levi's premium brands, and by the cannibalization of its own sales. "It's hard to see how this relationship will boost Levi's higher-end business," says Paul Farris, a professor at the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. "It's easy to see how this will hurt the higher-end business."

If Levi clothing is a runaway hit at Wal-Mart, that may indeed rescue Levi as a business. But what will have been rescued? The Signature line--it includes clothing for girls, boys, men, and women--is an odd departure for a company whose brand has long been an American icon. Some of the jeans have the look, the fingertip feel, of pricier Levis. But much of the clothing has the look and feel it must have, given its price (around $23 for adult pants): cheap. Cheap and disappointing to find labeled with Levi Strauss's name. And just five days before the cheery profit news, Levi had another announcement: It is closing its last two U.S. factories, both in San Antonio, and laying off more than 2,500 workers, or 21% of its workforce. A company that 22 years ago had 60 clothing plants in the United States--and that was known as one of the most socially reponsible corporations on the planet--will, by 2004, not make any clothes at all. It will just import them.

posted by y2karl at 10:55 PM on January 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

I second the vote for L.L. Bean jeans. They are start at $29.50 US, are durable and fit just right. Also, the company is very customer conscious, IMHO.
posted by cowboy at 6:56 AM on January 16, 2004

I love my Eddie Bauer "carpenter" jeans -- very heavy denim, and the supposed paintbrush pocket on the side of the leg is perfect for my cell phone.
posted by me3dia at 10:27 AM on January 16, 2004

Paper Denim and Cloth. US made from American and Japanese denim.
posted by cell divide at 11:11 AM on January 16, 2004

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