The latest Levi’s store at Pavilion Elite carries out the new Set The Standard (STS) concept that aims to make your shopping experience a memorable one, whereas the relaunch of the Orange Tab collection reintroduces the beloved series from 1969. To top it all off, long-time employee Imran Butt now heads the Levi’s Malaysia team as the new Country Manager, after his 12-year tenure in Pakistan. We speak to him about the new chapter for the brand.
How is the new STS store different from the Levi’s stores currently available around Malaysia?
STS is a new store format for the latest addition located at Pavilion Elite in KL. The objective of this format is to bring the brand to life, quite literally. So all the elements that come together in the latest store—the concrete polished floors, the high ceilings, the white lights, the larger-than-life imageries, the partitions… they are all there to make the customers feel like they are living in Levi’s, as the brand shapes into a real manifestation itself around them.
One of the key elements of the STS store format is the compartmentalisations that happen throughout the store, dividing each collection—or as we would like to call them, stories—in a clear and non-fuss manner. As the customer moves from one section to the next—from the Vintage 501, to the urban Commuter, to the new Orange Tab—they step into a different story every time, perhaps into a whole different era altogether. We also hope that with the STS format, it will be easier for customers to navigate around the store, whether it’s to look for certain styles that they want, or to discover a whole new style that they could call their favourite.
What about the existing Levi’s stores? Will the STS format be incorporated into those readily available stores?
The STS format is catered for larger-sized stores, as it needs a lot of space to showcase all the elements of the format. Not all of the Levi’s stores in Malaysia can run the STS format to its full extent, without going through an expansion themselves. However, what we can do and what we’re doing now is adapting the STS format instead for smaller spaces. They probably won’t have all the elements as stated, but the key elements of the format will still be carried forward, so that STS won’t lose its identity when converted into these smaller stores. It is going to be a challenge, but coming up with the STS is a challenge in itself. For the last 150 years, dating back to Levi Strauss’ days, the brand has always been about facing challenges.
Tell us more about the relaunch of the Levi’s Orange Tab collection.
The Orange Tab collection came into being in 1969, into a turbulent world that was undergoing political and cultural changes led by a group of restless youth—does that sound familiar? What’s happening right now in the world, which coincides with our seasonal inspiration this time around fitted really well, so we don’t see why we should not hop onto this time machine and bring back something that was popular even back then—and perhaps, inspire today’s youth the same restlessness for political and cultural changes.
We’re talking about denim style inspired by the late ‘60s and early ‘70s fashion: denim with a slight grey tone, the little peek-a-boo ‘watch pocket’ that is tucked into the curve of the front pocket on the right hip, seven belt loops instead of the usual five, the black-on-tan back patch instead of the usual red-on-tan, and the little orange flash on your back pocket. All these definitions that made the Orange Tab an icon are further exemplified with the privilege of modern technology, such as stretch fabrics, and finishing techniques like the laser printing and rip-and-repair. Just as we have seen the vintage 501s and 505s in the height of fashion, the Orange Tab will have its day. Not only that, the Orange Tab is a collectible collection; it will only be available for one year only.
Personally, what do you look for in a perfect pair of jeans?
It should look good on me. It’s that simple. In our quest to find comfortable clothes, we tend to end up buying oversized clothes. It doesn’t look good on you because it’s not your size. You don’t necessarily have to wear one size up; it always boils down to the fit. You have to get just the right fit, just the right size. If the fit is not right, no matter how nicely you package it, no matter how nice the finishing or the fabric is, if it does not fit you nicely, you would never buy it. Our job at Levi’s is to help our customers find the perfect fit. It’s our stylist’s job to walk our customers through the journey, show them all the fits that are available for them and make it a memorable experience for them. It’s a purchase of high involvement, and we work to make every second (and every penny you spend) count.
As the new Country Manager for Levi’s Malaysia, do you have any advice on keeping your team in shipshape conditions?
When I was with the Pakistan team, there was an overall growth in business of 30% to 35%. Personally, I can’t take the credit for it. I will, instead, give that credit to my team, which I honestly think I’m lucky to have. I do believe that you should always lead an army of giants; people who are bigger than you, stronger than you and smarter than you. You aren’t going into battle by yourself, because these people will help win the battle with you. Hence, in your selection of people, your selection of your army, you have to be very wise. When we bring people on board, we want them to think differently from us, instead of those who think like us and say things we want to hear.
What are your plans for Levi’s Malaysia, now that you are at the helm?
Currently, for the Malaysian market, Levi’s is selling at about one million units per year, which is really low—not even 1%. We’re just scratching the surface right now, and the opportunity is huge and it’s for us to explore. I used to tell my team in Pakistan that in the next two to three years, if anyone were to buy jeans, it would be Levi’s that they would go to. This is what I’m saying to the Levi’s Malaysia team. When people set out to buy a pair of jeans, I want Levi’s to be the first store they think of. If and when they don’t find what they are looking for—that’s a big “if” because we make sure that they do—only then will they go somewhere else. We’re looking to refine this mindset into the Malaysian market, and hopefully, in two to three years’ time, when it comes to a good pair of jeans, there is only Levi’s.
If Levi Strauss were alive today, what do you think he’d say about where Levi’s has gotten to today?
There are a few things that Strauss held true to dating back to when he first started, and that is the values of the company: empathy, originality, integrity and courage. The brand has experienced its highs and lows over the last 150 years. Right now, what with the transition into the technological era that has been and is still going on, some would say that we are going through challenging times, but if I were to be frank, who isn’t? The most important thing is that we have the values close to our hearts as we progress along the way. The fact that those values are still with the company, and that they remain the core of the organisation as it continues to grow, I think that is one of the things that he would feel very, very proud of.