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4/28/2006
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Levi Ships RFID-Tagged Jeans

In a trial program, the clothing maker began shipping RFID-tagged men's jeans to one retail location in the United States. The idea is to use RFID to help with inventory management.

The next pair of Levi Strauss & Co. jeans bought in a retail store could have a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag attached, the company confirmed Friday.

Levi Strauss & Co. spokesman Jeffrey Beckman confirms that the clothing maker began shipping men's jeans, excluding the infamous button-up fly 501s, to one retail location in the United States. The trial uses RFID tags clipped to the outside of the garment to focus on inventory management.

Declining to name the retail store and location, Beckman confirmed Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp., both of which have well-publicized RFID supply chain projects underway, don't sell the style of men's jeans shipping with RFID tags. About 80 percent of Levi Strauss' sales are through 10 customers, he said.

The project tests the ability for one unnamed retail store selling Levi Strauss products to manage inventory and stock replenishment with assistance from RFID technology rather than bar codes. "The tags have information similar to bar codes, such as product, style, size and color," Beckman said. "Having this information will allow the retail store to replenish stock quickly, so customers aren't frustrated when they can't find the style and size. That's the ultimate goal."

Beckman also confirmed Levi & Strauss tags products, including Dockers-brand pants, selling them through two retail locations in Mexico. Most retailers are slow to adopt RFID for item-level tagging, as more look toward spending budgets on loyalty programs and workforce management, said Rob Garf, research director at AMR Research Inc.

Maybe so, but some investments are going toward RFID technology projects to tag individual items, rather than track cases and pallets of goods moving through the supply chain. "Some industries gaining traction are fashion textile and luxury goods," said Alastair McArthur, chief technology officer at TAGSYS, which builds readers and RFID systems. "These are areas where item-level tagging has begun, and will continue to increase much quicker than in supermarkets to tag, for example, peanut butter."

"Individual items ending up with tags are typically priced at about $25 and above," said Alan McNab, senior director of product marketing for the RFID division at Symbol Technologies Inc., which sells inlays for RFID tags and readers.

News of Levis Strauss prompted Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre, known privacy activists and authors of the book "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track your Every Move with RFID" to issue a comment accusing the jean maker of "violating a call for a moratorium on item-level tagging."

The two said more than 40 "leading privacy and civil liberties organizations have called for a moratorium on chipping individual consumer items because the technology can be used to track people without their knowledge or consent."

Albrecht believes the company's silence about the U.S. test location is to prevent a consumer backlash. Clothing retailer Benetton was hit hard by a consumer boycott led by Albrecht in 2003, when the company announced plans to embed RFID tags in its Sisley line of women's clothing.

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