A Sleight of Hand

Although they’re beautifully shot and designed, I’m not really feeling these new print ads for Levi’s: 

I like the fact that some of the photos feature actual individuals who are doing innovative work in various fields, but the choice of visual aesthetic and text does NOT sit well with me. I’m annoyed every time I see them.

While I understand that the marketing strategy behind this campaign is obviously focused on the work wear origins of the Levi’s company, the aesthetic strategy is a blatant reference to the work of WPA photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, as well the themes presented in Marxist art from the same period. It is a clever visual correlation to make between the Depression era of the 20th century, and the economic recession we’re currently experiencing, but its cleverness is also a sleight of hand. 

Dorothea Lange (1937)
Walker Evans (1930s)

Just about every piece of clothing produced by an American mass retailer was worked on by at least one person (clothing is assembled by several individuals) who was not fairly compensated for their labor, and/or were subject to inhumane or unfair labor practices. Levi’s has been connected to factories using “sweatshop labor” several times since 2003, when the company laid off all of its American workers and moved their production to other countries. 

I don’t think any American mass clothing retailer should  entertain the notion that they’re celebrating the “worker,” or to even use the image of the “worker” to sell their goods, unless they know and can prove with certainty that their merchandise was made using fair labor practices. It’s also completely ridiculous to appeal to (and romanticize) the American worker, yet not actually employ any. 

The part that annoys me the most is that even though the campaign insults my intelligence, I know  that so many other people will fall for it and be inspired to buy a $79.50 pair of jeans, the same $79.50 pair of jeans that the person(s) who made it probably got 50 cents or less for. 

Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans would NOT approve. 


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