Levi’s® CMO Kenny Mitchell on music, freedom, and fashion


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Levi’s® CMO Kenny Mitchell on music, freedom, and fashion

Kenny Mitchell, the new CMO of Levi’s®, has always seen music and fashion as two sides of the same coin. In line with the launch of #ReflectYourOriginalité, Levi’s® and COLORS’ brand new collaboration championing bold, authentic self-expression, we sat down with him to find out more about how both sound and style have informed his journey from being a college DJ to becoming the person shaping the future of one of history’s most enduring brands.

In the 2023 movie about ‘Tetris’, the Russian inventor of the world’s first truly universally loved video game explains to Taron Edgerton’s naive American protagonist that what young Soviets really wanted in 1988 is freedom. Specifically, “freedom of speech, freedom of art and of freedom of expression… And freedom to wear Levi’s® jeans.”

While Moscow in the late eighties may seem a strange place to start a story about Levi’s® new Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Mitchell, it does tell us something crucial about the global climate of his formative years. While he and his older brother were taping tracks from rap radio and practicing their head spins, their contemporaries in the East were longing for the sound of 808s and the dreaming of feeling American denim against their skin. For large parts of the world, the brand Mitchell now drives is, and always has been, the embodiment of the American dream. It’s workwear that makes a statement about being who you want to be, making what you want to make, and looking good while doing it.

Mitchell is a marketer and leader who’s formidable corporate credentials could mask the fact that in reality he is mainly, like the rest of us, a fan. Since childhood, he’s been an avid follower of music, sport, and style—anything creative that awakens his sense of curiosity. “We grew up in a house where there was always music playing,” says Mitchell on a call from Levi’s® New York City offices. “My Mom doesn’t like silence so leaves a radio, or a record on at all times. I grew up on the sounds of Philadelphia and Motown. A ton of jazz and soul.”

Considering the key role rhythm played in their upbringing, it’s unsurprising that Mitchell and his brother would go onto become half of a four man break dancing crew, which was formed as a result of a neighborhood talent show. A pair of dark blue Levi’s® were the “pièce de résistance” of Mitchell & co’s stage look, which would also tend to feature an adidas Originals tee and a pair of Superstar shell-toes. At that point, his stylistic choices, like so many others that have shaped great music and art, were borne from a mix of taste and necessity. “We were pretty poor, so we weren’t able to burn through our pants,” says Mitchell, referencing the durability of Levi’s® denim. “It’s a good thing Levi’s® comes from the world of workwear, because we really put them to work!”


“Folks at the fall of the Berlin Wall wore Levi’s®, as did the hippies at Woodstock.”

If Mitchell already sounds like he was unreasonably fly for a kid his age, it’s because he was. But it was his early escapades in curation, rather than breakdance, that set him on the path of putting people on to what’s new and what’s next. “My mother is originally from New York, so every holiday we would go to my Grandmother’s place in Queens,” he recalls. “At that time, in the early-to-mid eighties, the only people playing hip-hop on the radio were in New York City. We would stay up late to record tapes of the music to take home with us. We became pretty much the coolest kids in our community because we were the ones with the newest hip-hop tracks from this New York radio station.”

Unbeknownst to a young Mitchell, this early act of being ahead of the curve would lead him to become a college DJ from 1993 to 97. “We didn’t realize at the time, but the ’90s were really what people now consider to be the golden age of hip-hop,” he says. “Now we see that things that start in the fringes and start in subculture, those are things that end up making it into the mainstream.”

Proliferating new trends has also ended up defining the direction of Mitchell’s incredibly successful career. The marketing campaigns he’s overseen have received Cannes Lions, been nominated for Emmy awards, and been selected for Tribeca Film Festival (among others). Yet, when it comes to talking about his achievements, Mitchells’ a man of very few words. During our call, he’s much more eager to focus the successes of others, from the inspirational record producer Rick Rubin to the greats of basketball coaching. He also keenly discusses how A.I is likely to shape the future of how brands connect with their consumer, and how last summer he got hooked, as many of us did, on Amapiano.

Mitchell’s current favorite conversational topic is the 150 years of near indestructible brand love Levi’s® has built since its founder first brought Serge de Nîmes (literally “strong fabric from Nîmes, France”) to San Francisco and tailored them with copper rivets for gold-rush miners. “Folks at the fall of the Berlin Wall wore Levi’s, as did the hippies at Woodstock,” says Mitchell with a palpable sense of wonder at the the brand’s historical significance. “Steve Jobs wore Levi’s® when introducing the first iPod, as did Barack Obama when he threw out the first pitch [at a Washington DC Nationals game in 2010.]” He names countless other Levi’s® patrons, from groundbreaking artists Andy Warhol and Basquiat to Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and Zendaya. “For the people driving progress, Levi’s® has always been their silent partner.”

Mitchell himself arrived at Levi’s® in the middle of 2023. Previously, he was court-side at PepsiCO, and rose through the marketing ranks when brands like Gatorade sent the commercial potential of his beloved Basketball stratospheric. He was also at the helm of Snap Inc. when AR and VR began to shift social networking onto an entirely new frontier. Now, as CMO at Levi’s, Mitchell’s vision for storytelling and marketing is not to dictate messages to audiences, but rather for the brand to be a key player in helping culture happen naturally. “Levi’s® strength comes from being incredibly democratic and elastic as a brand,” he says. “This means being prepared to share the pen with our audience”.

This “nothing forced, nothing over-engineered” philosophy is what attracted Levi’s® to working with COLORS for their #ReflectYourOriginalité campaign in the first place. In the age of algorithm dictated trends, the value of discovery—or the innocent act of cutting tracks ripped from the radio and sharing them with your classmates as Mitchell did—is all but disappearing. “One of my personal mantras, which comes from Peter Drucker, is the idea that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.” For Mitchell, marketing should be about creative empowerment and building spaces for young people to be curious, creative and expressive. As a result, dance has time-traveled from Mitchell’s youth to be the fulcrum of his first big brand campaign, ‘Live in Levi’s’, which launched in March 2024. Kicking off with a short film featuring high energy choreography, the campaign invites Levi’s® global audience to get inspired by movement and become part of crafting a story together.

“For the people driving progress, Levi’s® has always been their silent partner.”

Mitchell and his team understand that now, at a time where everything is available everywhere, to anyone, all at once, it is the curators, the risk-takers and the artists that need to be protected. The trick isn’t to give people what they want, but to create the cultural conditions so that they can find something new and exciting for themselves in what you’re presenting them. Rap from New York, video games from Russia, and durable blue fabric from the South of France all needed people like Mitchell to facilitate their cultural migration. Under his leadership, Levi’s® promises to continue their mission of providing the go-to wear for this kind of work. Pants that mean freedom. Uniforms for progress.

Kenny Mitchell is the CMO of Levi’s®. This profile was produced in line with the launch of #ReflectYourOriginalité, Levi’s® and COLORS’ brand new collaboration championing bold, authentic self-expression. You can find out more about the campaign here, and check out Parisian rapper Jewel Usain’s A COLORS SHOW that kicked off the project on our YouTube channel.

Text: Robbie Russell
Photography: Logan Rice 


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