Levi Strauss & Co. returned to the public market last week with an IPO that saw shares surge by more than a third on their first day of trading. It was a grand day for the 165-year-old company (and inventor of the blue jeans), yet the problem with going public is you don’t get to pick your partners.
Dusting off its old playbook, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) bought enough shares of Levi Strauss to become a headache. That is, the minimum number of shares needed to be able to submit shareholder resolutions and speak at Levi’s annual meetings.
What, you ask, does PETA care about Levi? Those little leather patches on the back of the iconic jeans.
“Gentle cows are beaten, slaughtered, and skinned—all so that Levi’s can tack a small, completely nonfunctional patch on the back of some of its jeans,” PETA wrote. “The company claims to prioritize sustainability, but we know that using cows’ skin has at least three times the negative environmental impact that using most vegan leather does.”
Typical over-the-top PETA propaganda. Yet it’s likely to get attention from the folks at Levi Strauss. That because the company says it recognizes millennials and Gen z customers want brands to take a stand on social issues. President and CEO Chip Bergh has personally spoken out against gun violence, and Levi’s gave employees time off to vote during last year’s midterm election.
“We are creating the denim wave,” Bergh said on CNBC last week. “It’s sustainable for the long term. We got a fair runway for growth. … Consumers at the end of the day love an emotional attachment to the brand.”
Levi’s, already the largest U.S. jeans brand, saw its share of the market rise to 12.1% last year, from 11.6% in 2013.
PETA’s tactic of buying shares to force a company to listen to its schtick has worked before. In 2017, it planned to become one of Canada Goose’s first shareholders ahead of the coat company’s IPO. The org called for the coatmaker to stop using fur and down.
Now, “PETA is heading to Levi’s boardroom to urge the company to stop peddling these patches, which cause cows immense pain and suffering,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement.