Sunday, March 6, 2011

Levi’s Jeans and Braddock, PA: another marketing tool puts the abandoned city into view

Levi’s, the deeply red, white & blue jeans company, is reinventing what the modern-day American pioneer looks like. In their recent ad series, their “go forth to work” mantra now applies to making crumbling, dilapidated US cities such as Braddock, Pennsylvania live and breathe again.

Similar to the “we put our boots on and went exploring” ads of Palladium Boots that I wrote about in Urban Renewal and Designer Shoes, Levi’s is bringing attention to the town of Braddock. Not that the town’s mayor, John Fetterman, hasn’t been doing his fare share of re-popularizing the once-prosperous city.

Armed with a graduate degree from Harvard University, Fetterman has spent the last few years as Braddock’s mayor, promoting the revitalization of the first Carnegie Library in the country, the creation of a youth center and the thriving community gardens that have been built over abandoned lots.
The struggle isn’t over—in fact it’s barely begun. The city with a former population of 20,000 now only has a fraction (about 2,700) of residents left. For background coverage on Braddock, see the New York Times stories published in 2009 and 2010.
With an abandoned business sector, “Mayor John” is encouraging entrepreneurs to call the city home and create jobs. People like Fossil Free Fuel heeded the call, and have moved their automobile biofuels business to Braddock (they have recently announced a spin-off company, Optimus Technologies, that will also be based in Braddock). It is also hoped that the extremely low-cost real estate will also draw more residents and commercial enterprises to Braddock. New resident Joel Rice moved his furniture business here from Portland, Oregon and bought a huge warehouse for only $70,000.
Levi’s partnered with IFC and Sundance channel to create an 11-part series on Braddock. The episodes (each under 10 minutes) feature genuine and candid interviews with Braddock residents.
Episode 1: the seeds of change
Episode 2: the mayor
Episode 3:
Episode 4: Unsmoke art space
Episode 5: Bell’s Market
Episode 6:
Episode 7: urban farm
Episode 8: the locals
Episode 9:
Doug and Jack
Episode 10:
the library
Episode 11: Epilogue
The Levi’s commercials have helped bring national attention to the situation in Braddock, and the company has invested $1.5 million dollars in the building of the youth center and maintenance of the library and community gardens. They have, however, also received criticism over their zealous identification with Braddock while at the same time selling clothing that was produced by non-US factories and workers (and while fending off worker’s rights abuse allegations to boot). The fact that Levi’s didn’t open a factory or even a store-room/multi-purpose community room (“Levi’s Workshops”) in Braddock like they did in more populous, thriving cities such as San Francisco and New York was another sore spot for some who were initially intrigued by the “go forth” ads. And as Sue Halpern of the New York Times recently wrote, Braddock's recovery is far from fast or dramatic.
But, the ads may have had the effect of igniting dialogue or at least reminding Americans living in more prosperous areas that cities like Braddock exist, and may multiply if we don’t make an effort to turn the tide. Scott Doyon, writing for the New Urban Network sees Braddock as a place where GenXers must meld their do it outside-the-box mentality with hand-in-hand community involvement. A student in the Winchester Thurston School’s Urban Research and Design course implemented a community service project inspired in part by the Levi’s commercials. For some, the commercials do give that feeling of restlessness or excitement that--even in ruins--there lies the possibility that together, we can yet again make something bloom.

1 comment:

  1. This could be a really great corporate team development. It's art and outreach combined. Nice touch.

    Mischna Ong