[Alyson Kuhn] I recently had the pleasure of holding in my hands a Shape What’s to Come journal, whose covers feel exactly like a pair of jeans worn and washed to perfection. Inside: mostly blank pages and an occasional inspiring quote. What is this jaunty little journal for? I had the good fortune to speak with Michael Perman, senior director for Global Marketing at Levi’s, and hear the story, which involves Levi’s sponsorship of the first TEDWomen conference back in December 2010.
Two of my favorite quotes include “guts.” From Tokyo, Japan, Chihiro Nishimoto encourages, “Fall, choose, guts, inspiration, open (Be open to any chance, you will develop and be sophisticated).” From Dublin, Ireland, Elaine Murphy observes: “Guts will come in very handy if you are living a creative life.”
Due to the different shades of denim used to make the paper, no two books are exactly alike.
Which came first, the SWTC community or the TEDWomen conference?
The community. Levi’s had started an online community in October 2010 called Shape What’s to Come, to focus on women who are turning their passions into a lifestyle — activating their creative impulses to make a difference in the world.
When Levi’s decided to sponsor TEDWomen, the conference organizers basically said, “Show up with a point of view about millennial women.” We had done quantitative research all over the world, but we wanted to bring something really fresh, stories that would enable us to bring the data to life.
How did you go about gathering these stories?
We used journals — but I’m not referring to the little denim-covered journals. We asked Etsy’s bookmaking group to make us beautiful big journals, which we planned to send to young women all over the world who are making a difference. Our original hope was for the journals to circulate, but we realized the complexity of keeping track of them and of getting them back in the timeframe we needed. We simplified that part by deconstructing the large journals, and we sent out eight-page sections, which the women returned directly to us. We then regrouped them by “sphere of creative influence” — so each story became a chapter in a journal about Music, Art & Media, Fashion, Social Change or Miscellanials. You can actually browse the journals on the Shape What’s to Come site.
Pam DeLuco’s hand-forged scissors from India are signed by their maker.
Then what happened?
We got wonderful responses, and we whittled the 70 down to eight — based somewhat on our desire for diversity, but mainly on the power of the stories. Then we worked with filmmaker Chiara Clemente to film these women — in Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. The film premiered at TEDWomen, and we posted it, of course.
What about the Shape What’s to Come journals?
We learned that the concept of journaling is a powerful expression. So, we set up a room at TEDWomen where attendees could create a single-page journal entry and put it up on the wall. Everyone who did a page received a keepsake — a Shape What’s to Come book. It couldn’t be just any book, and a relatively small journal that ties in to sustainability seemed ideal.
Marcy Moriconi on our team found Pam DeLuco to make the denim paper and bind the journals for us, and we started a little partnership. Pam also recommended the “environmental” paper for the journal pages — it’s Mohawk Loop, in a color called Milkweed [100 lb. Text, 100% PCW]. We find that once you open yourself up to the world, you meet so many interesting people along the way, and more characters come into the story. Pam became a character, and we had a video made of her making the denim paper.
Papermaker-bookbinder Pam DeLuco makes a difference with 40 lbs. of Levi’s denim scraps.
(iPhone and iPad users: Please view the video here.)
What’s next for Shape What’s to Come?
We are using the same approach to understand what is going on with women in India by asking them, “Who or what inspired you to become what you’ve become? What advice do you have for other women?” The concept of “story” has been and always will be an important part of our brand. It enables you to express something that is genuine. It’s different than advertising, which is a scenario that expresses a point of view, but it’s not a story. We value the ability to tell genuine stories about people who are pioneering in the world.
Several years ago, we developed a curriculum to help people at Levi’s think about motivating people to tell us their stories — and then deriving their relevance. I have a lot of experience in ethnographic research, so I’m familiar with the tools and techniques. We worked with IDEO to help us articulate it in the right words and pictures, so it would be a teaching tool. We motivated our colleagues to access the right side of their brains, and I think many people were delighted that the company recognized this as an important business tool.
Once you see the books and the Chiara Clemente films, there’s an emotional power that changes the way people feel about our brand — which is ultimately why we did it.
“Dear women on the planet: Make your life a piece of art.” — Naho Iquichi, Tokyo, Japan
Did you happen to keep any extra Shape What’s to Come journals?
I did. I’ve given away several of them, and it’s always a delight. People are absolutely charmed to receive one, especially when I explain about the pounds of jeans that went into the covers. I gave one away just this morning, to Tiffany Dufu, president of The White House Project, which advances women’s leadership in all communities — up to the U.S. presidency — by filling the leadership pipeline with a richly diverse, critical mass of women.
Gaby Dolceamore, a.k.a. the Levi’s Girl, recently gave a shout ’n’ share to Pam DeLuco’s affirmation: “Even everyday choices can align you with the sorts of things you believe in … all these little things add up.”