Levi Strauss, the company founded in San Francisco in the mid-1800s, became publicly traded again on March 21, 2019.

Margie Shafer/KCBS Radio

Levi's, 'A 166-Year-Old Startup,' Goes Public And Celebrates Its History

Margie Shafer
March 22, 2019 - 8:30 am

SAN FRANCISCO — Levi Strauss became a publicly traded company again on Thursday, leading the venerable denim maker to celebrate its ability to endure and at times, lead change in popular fashion. 

Employees took selfies in the lobby as they rang a facsimile of the trading bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The company's stock price increased by 30 percent in its first day back on the stock market. 

Levi's is known as the brand that invented blue jeans back in 1873. The company's roots go back further, to 1853 when founder Levi Strauss, a Bavarian immigrant, arrived in San Francisco to open a branch of his family's wholesale dry goods business. 

"I like in some ways to think of us as a 166-year-old startup," said company historian Tracy Panek. "We're from the San Francisco Bay Area and the place where Silicon Valley is."

As proof of its continued innovation, Panek talked about Levi's collaborating with Google to create a trucker jacket with bluetooth technology in the cuff. 

It was "one of the first, wearable tech jackets," Panek said. 

Shares in Levi's were traded from 1971 to 1985 when the Haas family, which is descended from the namesake founder, took control in a leveraged buyout. 

These days, Levi's is an omnichannel company, selling products in brick-and-mortar stores and online. It has plans to begin online sales of custom jeans. 

The company is also looking to lure more women to the brand. The first pair of jeans made for women went on sale in the 1930s. Today, female shoppers currently account for 20 percent of customers.