Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It's in the jeans

Busy, busy, busy! That seems to be the word around here these days and indeed the reason for my relative quiet on Differences & Repetitions. The semester began more than a month ago with a fantastic, graduate student-initiated symposium involving folks from IU, the Universities of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Northwestern, all of whom gathered here to discuss the relationship of rhetoric and democracy. Next came the job searches, which we've nearly wrapped up, and this week we have on tap the 11th annual IU cultural studies conference, where I'll be presenting a paper on cultural studies and academic journal publishing. Life's been something of a blur, needless to say.

I'm writing now to discuss an article I ran across recently in The Washington Times about the Levi-Strauss Company--you know, the apparel manufacturer best known for its jeans. Well, as it turns out, the company has fallen on something of hard times of late, owing to the declining popularity of its jeans and other clothing lines. What's intriguing to me is the strategy the company has adopted to get its act back together. Rather than seriously rethinking its brand associations or updating its designs, it's taken to suing competitors who've stitched arches on the back pockets of their jeans. Levi's evidently has trademarked that detail and, publicly, at least, says that it's convinced its economic downturn is related to the piggybacking of other companies on its design.

Really? I see this as a desperate measure on the part of a company that refuses to get creative. At bottom, I think, is the widespread presumption that Levi-Strauss--a company that's more than 130 years old--is frumpy...and I say that, admittedly, as someone who has a pair or two of Levi's hanging in my closet. Rather than spending millions of dollars to litigate arches stitched in gold thread, wouldn't it make more sense to try to create a hipper image or product line for Levi's jeans? I ask this not because I'm particularly concerned for the wellbeing of the Levi-Strauss Company, but rather because I'm discomforted by the company's leveraging its trademarks to forestall what in a reasonable world (as opposed to what Jane Gaines calls the "legal real") would amount to appropriate competition.

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