Knowing that so many huge corporations are exploiting labor in the third world, it’s refreshing and inspiring to see a company that’s actually doing something to help out the people at a community level in these same countries. Better still, it’s great to see a company with deep pockets channel its money into a part of the world that could use a leg up in interesting and unexpected ways. This is exactly what Levi’s jeans is doing; they’re partnering with NGOs and grassroots organizations, and they’re building world class skateboard parks in developing countries.
New Kid On The Block
Levi’s has a skateboarding specific jeans and clothing line now, and they’re sponsoring pro skateboarders and producing slick videos and ads. However, they aren’t producing their promotional materials in California or Vancouver. Instead, they are filming videos in various locations all over the globe where there is a need for many amenities, a high quality public skateboard park being one of them. Working together with local partners and other organizations, they are building a much needed place to skate wherever they go.
Not The First Time
Seeing a well established brand try to break into skateboarding is nothing new. Harley Davidson tried to make a skateboarding shoe in the early nineties to no avail. Evidently they failed to learn anything the first time around, because they’re back at it again with incredibly dorky looking and expensive skate shoes.
Nike has also been in the skateboard game for a while now. Truth be told, Nike also tried to break into skating in the nineties, but failed to capture the attention of skateboarders and quickly discontinued the line. This was due in large part to a miscalculated marketing scheme that included goofy commercials with attempts at humor that were way off point and fell flat completely.
When Nike decided to have another run at the skateboard industry in the 2000s, they retooled their approach completely. This time around they legitimized their brand by building a skateboard team consisting of legendary skateboarders like Eric Koston, Lance Mountain and Gino Ionucci, as well as future legends such as Stefan Janoski and Grant Taylor.
Also, instead of retailing at “uncool” department stores and franchise footwear chains like they did in the nineties, the second time around Nike made sure their shoes sold primarily at core skate shops. They also made sure that their skate shoes were highly functional and stylish. As a result, Nike’s second kick at the can proved very successful, and today skateboarding is one of the biggest areas of growth for Nike.
Levi’s skate jeans are also highly functional. Skateboarders have been wearing Levi’s denim for over three decades, but the jeans that are part of this collection are specifically designed and tailored to hold up to the wear and tear that’s part of the sport: the Cordura denim is highly resistant to abrasion, and a lycra blend gives the jeans more stretch, so skaters don’t have to worry about tearing the crotch when they’re doing benihanas.
Like Nike, Levi’s are making this special collection available in Skateboard Shops. Their ad campaigns also feature some of the best riders in the world who are redefining people’s notions of what can be done with the stunt wood. They’re even sponsoring the European tour of musician and 1980s skateboarding icon Tommy Guerrero.
We Build Skateparks Now
What is undoubtedly the coolest and most novel aspect of Levi’s marketing campaign is the brand’s commitment to be a major player in the construction of top notch skateboard parks in the developing world. However, it’s important to point out that it was not Levi’s who initially came up with this idea. As the brand manager of Levi’s Skateboarding tells it in this interview from vice magazine, the genesis for this marketing campaign occurred when Levi’s was approached with the idea of helping out with a skate park build in India.
“It was a pitch from the Svire guys, the building crew out of Germany… they pitched the idea for the park in India because they met a guy who skated for Holy Stoked, the skate collective there…when we were asked if we wanted to get involved I was like, ‘Why don’t we make that our whole platform?’ And so we went all in on that project and made it three times the size of the original pitch because we wanted to get in and be like, ‘This is what we do. We build skateparks now.’ ”
Here are some of the projects that Levi’s Skateboarding has been involved in:
In the Johannesburg suburb of Edenvale, an existing skateboard park with metal obstacles was experiencing a problem with theft; vandals were actually taking apart the ramps and other obstacles in order to sell the metal as scrap. The skate park was being rendered unskateable in the process.
In order to remedy this problem, Levi’s Skateboarding teamed up with Cape Town based builders Woodies Ramps in order to build a free facility that not only benefitted from better design, but was made out of concrete. It’s hard to steal concrete, so this new park couldn’t be pilfered the same way the previous park was.
Bangalore already had a skatepark, but it was in an exclusive plaza that required an entrance free that at almost $3.50 USD was inaccessible to many, especially youth. Thus, in 2013, with the support of Levi’s Skateboarding, German non profit Make Life Skate Life, local skate click Holy Stoked Collective, and a few dozen other professional skateboarders and builders who were willing to stomach the food poisoning completed the first public skatepark.
This project was quarterbacked by the ASLP (The La Paz Skateboard Association). This organization was founded by a skateboarder with Bolivian roots, who in this interview chronicles the often uphill battle to unite local government, NGOs, embassies, and many other factions in the common cause that came to be the Pura Pura skatepark in La Paz Bolivia.
The Pura Pura build saw Levi’s Skateboarding support the ASLP, Make Life Skate Life, Endboss Projects, local government agencies, and over one hundred volunteers from all over the globe who were willing to brave the incredibly thin air in one of the highest cities in the world. Everyone involved came together to build a skatepark that at approximately 1,200 square meters is not only one of the biggest in South America, but at 3,600 meters is also the highest in the world.
With so much space, the builders were able to build a wide variety of obstacles. Amongst these obstacles is a ramp which climbs the side of the “Skatehaus”—an onsite community center that will host a wide variety of educational activities. The Skatehaus will also be used to store the many donated skateboards and equipment that youth—most of whom would not otherwise have access to skateboards—are able to use freely.
Hopefully, other corporations will make the same efforts to bolster emergent skateboard scenes in developing countries instead of just trying to make a quick buck off of a “trend”. After all, although skateboarding as a sport and subculture waxes and wanes in its popularity, the diehards can always spot a poser a mile away.