Don’t Look Now, but 146-Year-Old Levi’s Just Hired an Artificial Intelligence Officer

Analytics whiz Katia Walsh lured from Vodafone

Walsh will focus on building 'data, analytics and artificial-intelligence enablers.' Getty Images

One factor Levi’s has over all other jeans brands is heritage. Buy a pair of 501s, and you’re essentially getting the rugged style first made for California gold-rush prospectors in 1873 and faithfully worn by icons from Marlon Brando to Kurt Cobain in the generations since.

But heritage alone isn’t enough to sustain a brand in the digital era, and while many consumers might not associate Levi Strauss & Co. with technology, the brand is clearly moving in that direction—at least, if today’s announcement is any proof.

Levi’s has just hired its first artificial intelligence officer. Katia Walsh, who was most recently Vodafone’s chief data and analytics officer, will drop her bags at Levi’s on April 29.

According to a company statement, Walsh will focus on building “data, analytics and artificial-intelligence enablers” that will strengthen the company’s present and future business ventures.

The company hasn’t been more specific than that, but it’s a safe bet Walsh will tap her expertise to build on the AI efforts specifically—and the digital advances in general—Levi’s has already made in recent years.

In 2017, for example, the brand launched a virtual-stylist feature on its website. Visitors receive AI-driven fashion advice from a smart chatbot that speaks in a conversational tone, asking questions like, “How would you like your jeans to fit through your hips and thighs?” and then making tailored recommendations.

Levi’s also partnered with Google in 2017 to produce its Project Jacquard cycling jacket. Designed for the urban commuter, the jacket—woven with conductive Jacquard thread—links to wearers’ mobile devices via Bluetooth, enabling them to simply tap the cuff to access music, phone calls or directions.

Walsh boasts over two decades of experience with big data, analytics, machine learning and AI, and has worked for a broad range of companies ranging from Forrester Research to Prudential Financial.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.