This month, Levi's is introducing its new, less expensive Signature jeans line. (The jeans, for men, women and children, sell for around $23. They have fewer detail finishes than Levi's other lines. They don't have the company's trademark red tab or stitching on the pocket.) Of course, there's something in it for Wal-Mart. The company, already the largest clothing retailer in the world, wants more affluent customers. To lure them in, it needs big brands. Acknowledging that the company's customers come from a "cross-section of income levels and lifestyles," Wal-Mart Senior Vice President Lois Mikita says the company "continues to tailor its selection to meet the needs of those customers."
Levi's believes the new line, and the new retail venue, will revitalize the company by boosting annual sales by hundreds of millions. With up to 100 million shoppers trolling through Wal-Mart every week, that's not an unreasonable assumption. "Levi has to face reality," says Ira Kalish, a retail industry economist. "This is a company that's dropped in size 40 percent or so over the past couple of years. The move to Wal-Mart could be sizable." By partnering with Wal-Mart, adds Harry Bernard, an executive at retail consultancy Colton Bernard, "they'll get the volume they'll need to survive."