Interview with Mir Zia Mahmood — Country Head Pakistan and East Europe Non-EU countries at LS&Co – BR Research

Mir Zia Mahmood is the Country Head Pakistan and East Europe Non-EU Countries at Levi Strauss and Co. He has a 16+ years of experience in apparel retail business with Levi Strauss Pakistan having expertise of managing challenging business environment, driving sustainable and profitable growth, elevating brand / consumer experience and driving productivity by developing dynamic and motivated teams. In addition to apparel retail, he has 5 years’ experience of industrial sales/ marketing at Packages Ltd., Pakistan’s biggest paper and board manufacturing, processing and converting company.

Following are the edited excerpts of a recent conversation BR Research had with Mr. Zia Mahmood:

BR Research: Tell us about your journey and your responsibilities with LS&Co.

Mir Zia Mahmood: My 17-year journey with Levi Strauss & Co began in 2005 and over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work in various functions including Marketing, Brand and Commercial before becoming the Country Manager of Pakistan in 2016. While filled with various challenges, it has been a fulfilling journey as I led the team in navigating macro-economic environments, business expansions and consolidations pre- and during COVID.

In January 2022, I was given the additional responsibility of managing markets beyond Pakistan which includes the East Europe Non-EU country cluster.

BR Research: How long has the brand Levi’s® been around globally and in Pakistan? What makes it so relevant after all these years?

MZM: As a company, Levi Strauss & Co has been around for the past 169 years, creating some of the world’s most-loved, iconic apparel. Our aspiration for the decade ahead is to be the world’s best apparel company, famous for our brands and our values. In fact, on any given day, nearly half of the world’s population is wearing blue jeans. And we have the unique claim to that heritage.

Levi Strauss Pakistan (Pvt.) Ltd was incorporated in Pakistan as a private company in 2001. Since then, we have been operating as a subsidiary of Levi Strauss & Co. which operates in 100 + countries globally with its head office in San Francisco, California, USA.

The Levi’s® brand promises seeks to empower consumers to express themselves in an authentic manner every day through head-to-toe lifestyle solutions. Levi’s® is the denim leader in multiple markets globally and we are evolving to become the most loved and relevant lifestyle brand. We offer denim and non-denim lifestyle solutions for all genders including a range of athleisure, footwear and accessories with key focus on Gen-Z consumer group.

BRR: How has your company navigated through the pandemic? What steps were taken by Levi’s® to safeguard their employees and customers?

MZM: The pandemic fast-tracked many consumer shifts in our industry that play to our strengths, and as expectations and habits continue to evolve beyond the pandemic, we will continue to succeed by putting the consumer at the center of everything we do, focusing on what we can control and executing against our strategies.

While enforced quarantine measures had a significant impact on in-store traffic, we noticed – like many others in the retail industry – an uptake in e-commerce and have placed emphasis on accelerating our e-Commerce growth accordingly. We alsoinvested heavily in AI and Machine Learning to accelerate design processes and transform the company digitally.

From an employee standpoint, our priority has always been to safeguard the well-being of our teams and we implemented global standards of health and safety measures across all our retail footprint and corporate offices.We were quick in adopting the new normal whereas offering the digital tools to our employees to efficiently work from home.

BRR: How is the western fashion apparel industry evolving globally and in Pakistan?

MZM: Globally, incorporation of technology is becoming integral to fashion world; the design concepts are changing; sustainability has become a huge movement;and Omni channel experience is gaining popularity.

Pakistan’s fashion apparel industry iscontinuously evolving. Western fashion apparel brands in Pakistan are providing wide range of head-to-toe lifestyle solutions across all genders and age groups. Consumer experience is at the core of this evolution. However, opportunity exists in sustainable ways of working to enhance product quality and durability.

BRR: That being said, it is necessary to stay current if not ahead with times.What are the challenges that the fashion industry faces as a continuously consuming industry?

MZM: The fashion industry has to be sustainable. We know it starts with us, what we can do in our business and our operations. That’s why we landed on the three C framework (climate, consumption, and community), to focus our efforts across everything we do. Doing so demonstrates our commitment to our values as a company, shows we understand how sustainability creates value for all stakeholders, aligns us with the concerns and demands of today’s consumers and investors, and helps future proof our operations for the long-term.

But no one can do it alone, especially in our industry. We need brands collaborating with each other and other partners to solve the biggest challenges we face while doing everything possible to make sure their own products and practices are as sustainable as they can possibly be. We are 100 percent committed to doing our part, to making the investments, doing the R&D (WellThread), partnering with others, innovating (e.g. Water

Across the board, we are doubling down on our sustainability investments, because our people and our planet can’t afford anything less, and because we know that we only truly succeed if we leave the planet better than we found it This is how we meet the moment and prepare for the long-term. It’s how we build a stronger company and a stronger society. And it’s how we demonstrate that we not only intend to be around for another 168 years, but that we want to be worthy of doing so.

The consumer has a role to play, and it’s that joint responsibility – and joint opportunity – between brands and consumers that we are trying to get at with our Buy Better, Wear Longer campaign.

BRR:How does Levi’s® position itself in Pakistan’s marketplace?

MZM: Levi’s® is positioned as one of the most premium brands in Pakistan offering high quality lifestyle apparel solutions.We continue to lead the denim category, providing sustainable quality products designed to last generations and encouraging consumers to wear what they love and live with it longer.

We have long been committed to contributing to a more just society and a better world. This means using our scale, reach and platform to advocate for positive change, address overconsumption and drive toward a more sustainable, less resource-intensive apparel industry. It also means looking past the traditional take-make-waste model toward a circular economy, where nothing is wasted in the manufacture, use and reuse of products. And it means engaging consumers, peers and industry groups in this shared journey to a sustainable future.

BRR: How does Levi’s® look at the notion of inclusion and diversity in Pakistan? Are you an equal opportunity provider?

MZM: At Levi Strauss & Co., we’re committed to creating a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive company and culture that actively supports and empowers all genders.

It was with this in mind that we consciously developed a program that would create economic access for women in a safe and sustainable manner to have positive long-term benefits for program participants. The theme of this initiative was “Change has no gender” under this theme we came up with this idea to launch “First all-women-led store”. Our store in Packages Mall is a fully women staffed and one of its kind in Asia.

Retail is generally considered as male dominant sector in Pakistan; women are very particular about working hours, weekly off days, safety and security, commuting and public dealing etc. With necessary training and development/mentoring programs as part of this program, we were able to sustain this initiative successfully. It is important to build the right support system like flexible working hours policy, fulltime and parttime employment model, competitive pay/recognition programs, harassment free workplace policy to attract and retain the female talent.

BRR: Tell us something about the 501® jeans and its relevance with current fashion trends? What’s so special about it?

MZM: On any given day, nearly half of the world’s population is wearing blue jeans. And we have the unique claim to that heritage. In 1873, Levi Strauss & Co. produced a denim work pant with copper rivets to meet miners’ needs for harder-wearing gear. Today that pant is known as the Levi’s® 501®. Initially designed as durable workwear, jeans have become a global closet staple and a cultural icon on which we continue to innovate.

The 501®, the world’s first blue jean, began as an innovative idea to fill a practical need. In the early 1870s, Nevada Tailor Jacob Davis was stitching up a pair of work pants for a customer when he hit on the idea of adding tiny metal pieces to the pockets. His “riveted” denim trousers soon became a hit and he could not keep up with the demand. Writing to his fabric supplier, Levi Strauss & Co., Davis proposed that they partner on a patent. On “501® Day”—May 20, 1873 U.S. Patent No. 139,121 was granted, and blue jeans were born. Next year 2023 would be the 150th anniversary of this icon and we are already thrilled to be celebrating it with the world next year.

501® jeans have a classic straight leg and globally, there is a trend inclining towards regular and straighter leg openings and that’s where the iconic 501s get relevant once again.

BRR: Where do you see the brand going in next 5 years in Pakistan?

MZM: We are a consumer obsessed company and that keeps us re-investing in the brand to speak to our consumer’s needs. There is an ever-growing demand of superior customer experience as we advance into this era of information explosion. Post pandemic, the strategies that we have built will leverage pole position of Levi’s® to really accelerate growth across gender, category and channel.

The brand is stronger than ever in its target consumer base and picking up every day. Opportunity to increase consumer connect exists to grow the brand share. Hence we suggest everyone to “Live in Levi’s®”.