Tag Archives: Levi’s

Jews of the Week: Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis

Inventors of Your Favourite Pants

Jacob Davis

Jakobs Jufess (1831-1908) was born in Riga, Latvia. He became a tailor before immigrating to the US at age 23. Upon arriving in New York, he changed his name to Jacob Davis and opened up a tailor shop. Over the next 15 years, he moved all across North America trying to make a living, spending time in Maine, California, Nevada, and British Columbia, working as a tobacco salesman, gold miner, and brewer. By 1869, Davis settled in Reno, Nevada and opened another tailor shop. His primary merchandise was originally tents, horse blankets, and wagon covers. To make his stuff stronger and more durable, he started using the toughest cotton denim he could find, which happened to come from a small dry goods store in San Francisco called Levi Strauss & Co.

Levi Strauss, the name behind Levi’s jeans.

Levi Strauss (1829-1902) was born in Buttenheim, Germany. When he was 18 years old, his family immigrated to the US, joining two older brothers that had settled in New York some years earlier. The brothers had set up a dry goods shop, and Levi went on to open a new store location in Louisville, Kentucky. During the California Gold Rush, the family saw opportunity in the West and opened another branch in San Francisco. Strauss headed that branch (together with his sister’s brother, David Stern), importing from his brothers in the East and selling high-quality merchandise at his Levi Strauss & Co. shop. He became very wealthy, and built San Francisco’s first synagogue, Temple Emanu-El. Strauss gave generously to many charities, too, and his Levi Strauss Foundation donated to multiple orphanages and universities (including UC Berkeley). In 1871, Strauss received an offer from Jacob Davis to go into business together. Davis had designed a new type of work pants using blue denim and copper rivets to make the material extra strong. The first set of such “jeans” was custom-tailored for a lumberjack. Before long, everyone wanted a pair, and Davis couldn’t keep up with demand. Strauss helped Davis get the proper patents, and the two partnered up. To make his jeans distinct, Davis soon started to sew the back pockets with the now-ubiquitous orange double-stitch. Meanwhile, Strauss built a large jeans factory in San Francisco and Davis moved there to run the plant. Davis worked at the plant for the rest of his life, outfitting every miner, railroad worker, and cowboy with “Levi’s jeans”, his special pants. The modern jeans that Davis and Strauss brought to the world grew rapidly in popularity, first in the workforce, then among teenagers and “greasers” in the 50s and 60s, and today being the most popular type of pants in the world.

Coronavirus and the Coming of Mashiach

Words of the Week

Few are guilty; all are responsible.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jews of the Week: Doris and Donald Fisher

The Gap

Doris and Donald Fisher (Courtesy of californiamuseum.org)

Doris and Donald Fisher

Donald George Fisher (1928-2009) was born in San Francisco to a middle-class Jewish family. Soon after graduating with a business degree from UC Berkeley, he married Stanford graduate Doris Feigenbaum (b. 1932), one of the first women to be granted a degree in economics. In 1969, Donald had a hard time finding a good pair of jeans, and decided to open up his own clothing store where shopping would be both easy and cool. His idea was to sell jeans and music, and he wanted to call his store ‘Pants and Discs’. His wife suggested to call it ‘the Gap’ (short for “generation gap”). The couple raised $63,000 and opened their first store in San Francisco, selling Levi’s jeans and music records. An instant hit with young people, they made $2 million in their first year alone. By 1973, they had expanded their merchandise, opened up 25 stores, and went public. In the 80’s, the company bought out other brands like Banana Republic, and started a new value store, Old Navy. The Fishers are credited with inventing the “specialty retail” store concept, and Gap remains the largest specialty retailer in the US. It now has nearly 3700 stores in 90 countries, with over 150,000 employees. Donald and Doris maintained tight control of the company for four decades. In 2009, Donald sadly passed away after a battle with cancer. That same year, Doris stepped down as director of the company. She has since served as a director of Stanford University, is still the major shareholder in Gap, and has a net worth of over $3 billion. She has been ranked third in Forbes’ list of America’s Self-Made Women. More importantly, the Fishers are noted philanthropists, with their foundation donating over $20 million each year to educational organizations like Teach for America and KIPP (‘Knowledge is Power Program’), which directly benefits over 32,000 low-income children. The Fisher family are members of Congregation Emanu-El, one of California’s oldest synagogues.

Words of the Week

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Mark Twain

Jews of the Week: Joe, Ralph, and Avi Nakash

The Jordache Brothers

Avi, Joe, and Ralph Nakash

Joseph Nakash (b. 1942) was born in Israel to poor Syrian-Jewish immigrant parents. At 20, having never finished high school, Joseph moved to New York with just $25. He initially worked as a stock boy making $40 a week before taking over as store manager, saving money to bring over his brothers, Raphael and Avraham, from Israel. Soon after they arrived, the trio combined their savings to purchase an appliance store in Brooklyn, which they converted to a retailer selling designer jeans. The store was an instant hit, and in just a few years, they opened three more locations. They soon started producing their own brand of jeans: Jordache (a contraction of their names: Joe, Ralph, his son David, and Avi Nakash). Taking a loan to start a massive ad campaign, the brothers were able to turn Jordache into a household name in jeans. By the mid-80s, their revenues neared half a billion dollars, and the brothers began to expand their business into other areas. They started their own global cargo shipping business, and also acquired 50% of Guess (a deal which ended in 1990 with Jordache keeping the “Gasoline” brand and Guess keeping the “Diesel” brand). By 1995, Jordache began to lose its “high-end” status so the brothers made an agreement with Wal-Mart to sell the jeans as a discount label. This actually turned out to be a blessing, further propelling their sales. At the same time, they began to manufacture jeans for other brands like Tommy Hilfiger, American Eagle, and even Levi’s! Since then, the Nakash brothers have also expanded into airlines, hotels, agriculture, banking, and real estate. Their Israeli olive oil factory produces award-winning oils, and their Tel-Aviv tomato plant supplies Heinz with tomato paste. Most recently, they purchased Miami’s Versace Mansion (outbidding Donald Trump), and the Setai Miami Beach Hotel, among the city’s most expensive and prestigious. Their shipping company also won exclusive rights to operate Israel’s Red Sea port in Eilat. Despite the fact that the Nakash empire is worth over $2 billion, many of the company’s decisions are still hammered out at the family’s Shabbat dinner table.

Words of the Week

One who does not see God everywhere does not see Him anywhere.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, The Kotzker Rebbe