Levi's sports white knots in support of gay marriage

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Now that Memorial day has passed, Levi's has begun outfitting its mannequins in white. This year, however, the bright color doesn't just represent the beginning of the summer or a nice accent for denim. Rather, the jean giant has also begun using white to demonstrate its support for gay marriage.

The White Knot program encourages people to demonstrate their solidarity with marriage equality by wearing a small piece of knotted white ribbon. A subtle symbol, white knots have appeared on the clothing of celebrities ranging from New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg to comedienne Kathy Griffin. And now, of course, they are appearing on hundreds of Levi's mannequins.

This is an interesting move for the company. While Levi's once represented the pinnacle of jean fashion, it has long since been replaced by an endless procession of other brands.

Current favorites, including Rock & Republic, Diesel, 7 For All Mankind, and True Religion are priced far out of the range of most Levi's. Moreover, the company's decision to launch its "Signature" line, which is primarily marketed through Wal-Mart and other discount retailers, could be regarded as an admission that the company is permanently positioning itself as a mass-market brand.


Although the more cynical among us might argue that Levi Strauss' move to support gay marriage is part of a plot to gain more gay customers, this seems reductive. After all, in recent years, the company has aggressively moved to gain a significant portion of the gay market.

On television, they have released ads directly targeted at gay consumers and sponsored programs on Logo. More substantively, it was the first Fortune 500 company to offer health benefits to "domestic partners of unmarried employees." Late last year, Levi's gave $25,000 to the coalition leading the fight against California' Prop 8, and its chairman emeritus gave $100,000.

Earlier this month, as part of the company's "501 Day," Levi Strauss let employees take off the day from work to volunteer with nonprofit organizations in their communities. Levi's then gave cash grants to the organizations that their employees endorsed.

In San Francisco, where the company is headquartered, these organizations included the San Francisco LGBT Center, Out of the Closet, and the AIDS Memorial Grove. Later in May, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) honored Levi Strauss for its inclusion of gays in advertising and its attempts to foster LGBT-friendly workplaces.

Part of the reason that Levi Strauss is able to make this commitment to supporting LGBT rights is because it is still family-owned. However, in a broader context, the company's moves demonstrate that LGBT rights might not be quite as controversial as the past eight years may have suggested.

After all, while one might expect gay marriage to gain traction in Massachusetts and California, Iowa's decision to make it legal demonstrates that inclusive policies are not the sole purview of coastal America.

In fact, given the passage of Proposition 8 in California and New York's slowness in pushing for marriage equality, it seems that America's most avowedly liberal states may have much to learn about inclusion!

While it seems likely that Levi's might lose a little bit of market share in some of the country's more conservative areas, its move to embrace gay rights suggests that this issue has become more about civil rights than about religion. In this context, it seems like the move for universal marriage rights may have turned a corner.

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