Summary List Placement
At the start of the Cold War, Levi’s jeans represented everything communist governments were trying to stamp out. But Levi’s kept finding their way behind the Iron Curtain, especially into East Germany. There, people could see what they were missing just over the wall that separated them from the West. East German officials started to worry: Could a pair of pants bring down the government?
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Reported and produced by Julia Press, with Charlie Herman and Sarah Wyman.
Gerd Horten, Don’t Need No Thought Control: Western Culture in East Germany and the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Note: This transcript may contain errors.
CH: As a college student in the 1980s in Boise, Idaho, Eric Schrader started buying up Levi’s 501 jeans. Tons of them.
ERIC SCHRADER: I would buy, I don’t know, 1500 to 2000 jeans a month, just out of retail stores.
CH: Eric’s college roommate had clued him in on an opportunity to sell jeans on the European black market. All he had to do was buy some jeans, stuff them in envelopes and ship them to people in West Germany, who could then resell them to East Germans at a major markup. The operation was a lot more profitable than a library study job (I had one of those). Eric was easily quadrupling his money. But the guys he sold to in West Germany were the ones really making a killing. One of them told him he once got,
ES: Two cans of the best caviar and two bottles of the best champagne, just for a pair of Levi’s, which would have been, you know, four or $500 at the time.
CH: Levi’s tried to crack down on this kind of thing. Eric remembers the company limited the number of jeans one person could buy at any one time. But that didn’t do much.
ES: I would just pay people outside of the store to go in and buy me, you know, four to six jeans, however many they would let you buy at a time.
CH: By the ’90s, Levi’s had even gotten a law passed in Europe that said only Levi’s the brand could ship new pairs of its jeans overseas.
ES: And so then we started pulling the paper tags off the new jeans and putting them in an envelope. And then we’d put the new jeans in a bale of other clothes, all folded up and then we’d ship the used clothes, but they were really new jeans. And then we’d shipped the tags in a separate envelope. And then they’d just put the tags back on the jeans when they got to Germany.
CH: For decades, jeans smugglers like Eric had been trying to get pairs of pants into East Germany. Because the government had done its best to keep Western culture out of the country, …read more
Source:: Business Insider