On Thursday, Gareth Steele, the director of UK Steel, told The Guardian: “President Trump had already loaded the gun and today, we now know that the US administration has unfortunately fired it and potentially started a damaging trade war.” Steele says the UK steel industry “had hoped for the best but still feared for the worst,” but its pessimism was justified.
To quote the President, an all out trade war would be “sad” considering more than money is at stake. It all started in March, when President Trump threatened to move forward with his plan to implement tariffs, or taxes, on steel and aluminum. Now, we have an in-depth look at the items (some 10 pages full of American-made products including cigarettes, lipstick, and jeans), the European Union is threatening to tax in response.
But in the case of taxing textiles and denim (Levi’s specifically), which aren’t even items the United States counts among its top exports, what's the point? Back in March, Matt Gold, adjunct professor of law at Fordham University and a former U.S. trade official under President Barack Obama, told GQ that he thought the EU’s decision to tax a brand like Levi’s is a strategic move, one that's more for political gain than financial. As he put it, the brand resonates with “rugged individualist Americans in rural areas, which are in turn associated with Trump’s constituents."
That, and it's a clickbait-y headline to involve a heritage brand like Levi’s. After all, what’s more American than a pair of blue jeans? Since 1872, when Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis partnered on the precursor to our beloved denim bottoms, “waist overalls,” and introduced the original 501 jeans during the Gold Rush in California, Levi’s has been a way of life. Americans have worn jeans to war, work, and everywhere in between. Political scientist Joseph S. Nye, Jr., equates a pair of jeans to “freedom, work as self-fulfillment, simplicity, ease, comfort, and democracy made material.” So, yeah, when you put it that way, it’s no wonder the European Union wants to attack our jeans. Denim is a way of life in the United States.
But it's not just Americans who are buying into their symbolism; according to Bloomberg, in 2017 Levi’s European sales rose by 20 percent. And though we don't know just how much this tax will affect the cost of American jeans overseas, it could have a longstanding effect on the U.S. clothing manufacturing industry (which is ironic, given Trump is all for "Made in America" products). In an aim to curb any consequences, Bloomberg reports that Levi's is working to make United States and European Union authorities aware of “how these decisions will impact not just our business but consumers and the millions of people across our supply chain.”
We’ve reached out to Levi’s for comment and will update this piece if/when we hear back.