The “Voice of the Customer”… and the small pocket on jeans

Image from

Most people have no idea what the purpose is for the tiny pocket peeking out over the right pocket of their jeans. Some people have speculated that it was designed for keys, coins, tickets, matches, lighters, etc. But the pocket is too narrow and deep to retrieve most items placed in it. So what was it really designed for?

A pocket watch! During the late 19th century, most men owned pocket watches; which were normally stored in their waistcoat (a.k.a. vest) pocket and attached to a chain secured to a buttonhole. Wristwatches were primarily worn by women during that time; and called “watch bracelets”. Hardworking men didn’t always own or wear a waistcoat. And keeping their pocket watch into a pant pocket placed it at risk of being scratched or damaged by coins or other items. And it was common for pockets to tear… spilling their contents onto the ground. Men needed a separate, more protected “watch pocket” in their pants.

So who came up with the idea?

Levi Strauss (Image from Wikipedia)

Levi Strauss arrived in San Francisco in 1853 with a load of merchandise that he hoped to sell in the California mining camps. Unable to sell a large supply of canvas, Strauss had the idea of using the durable material to make work pants for miners. Strauss’ canvas pants were a huge success among miners who had long complained that conventional pants wore out too quickly.

In 1872, Strauss received a letter from Jacob W. Davis, a customer and tailor who worked in the mining town of Reno, Nevada. Davis wrote that he had discovered canvas pants could be improved if the pocket seams and other weak points that tended to tear were strengthened by copper rivets. Davis’ riveted pants had proven popular in Reno, but he needed a patent to protect his invention. Intrigued by the copper-riveted pants, Strauss and his partners agreed to undertake the necessary legal work for the patent and begin large-scale production of the pants.

While it is not known which man actually thought of adding a “watch pocket” to the jeans, it was included in the design submitted for the patent Strauss and J. W. Davis received for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket Openings,” on May 20, 1873.

Jacob W. Davis (Image from Wikipedia)

The “watch pocket” was placed over the right front pant pocket because most men are right handed. And the “watch pocket” is deep in order to prevent the watch from easily slipping out, while quickly accessed by pulling the pocket watch chain (typically attached to a buttonhole or placed in the main pocket; as belt loops weren’t included on Levi’s jeans until 1922).

Tracey Panek, the in-house historian at Levi Strauss & Co., said “The watch pocket was a feature of our first waist overalls,” the original name for the jeans made by Levi Strauss & Co.

In exchange for his ideas, Strauss made Davis his production manager. Eventually, Strauss switched from using canvas to heavyweight blue denim, and the modern “blue jeans” were born.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether the idea for the “watch pocket” came from Levi Strauss or Jacob W. Davis, because both men understood that listening to the “Voice of the Customer” was key to the success of any company. And the “watch pocket” was a popular feature for many years. That is, until wristwatches became popular among men.

During World War I, armies began issuing wristwatches to their soldiers in order to more precisely coordinate their maneuvers. As soldiers returned home, so did their newly acquired habit of wearing wristwatches. As wristwatches grew in popularity among men, the purpose of the “watch pocket” was all but forgotten.

Why is the obsolete "Watch Pocket" still there?

During 2015 alone, there were 1.25 billion jeans sold worldwide. And with $4.75 billion in sales during 2015, Levi Strauss & Co. remains the largest manufacturer of jeans. Yet, Levi Strauss & Co., along with some of its competitors, still include the obsolete “watch pocket” on many popular jeans. Why?

“The watch pocket was an original element of our blue jeans, like the rivets on our pockets, button fly, arched back pocket stitching and leather patch,” Panek said. “To preserve the integrity of the early design, Levi Strauss & Co. maintains the watch pocket.”

Interestingly, the original Levi’s jeans also came with a cinch and suspender buttons. Levi’s historian Lynn Downey says, “We first put belt loops on our 501 jeans in 1922. However, we didn’t remove the cinch and the suspender buttons. Older customers just kept using the cinch and suspenders. We took the suspender buttons off the jeans in 1937, but gave our retailers ‘press-on’ buttons for the guys who just had to keep wearing suspenders.”

So the “watch pocket” was retained “to preserve the integrity of the early design”, but the cinch and suspender buttons were not. This seems like an odd contradiction in reasoning.

Obviously, to hold a commanding lead as the worlds largest manufacturer of blue jeans, Levi Strauss & Co. is an excellent company with millions of loyal customers. Perhaps there is more to the little “watch pocket” than meets the eye. Then again…

The Voice of the Customer

Did you know the purpose of the tiny pocket on jeans prior to reading this article? Does the “watch pocket” provide any aesthetic appeal to you? And would you be willing to pay more for jeans that included the “watch pocket” (i.e., does it add any value)?

If you answered no to all of the above questions, and with Lean Six Sigma in mind, do you think the cost of extra material and processing time required to add the tiny pocket are justified in preserving the integrity of the early design; especially when considering that other early design features have been removed?

More importantly, how many examples can you find where your company continues to maintain obsolete features in its products? And has anyone asked whether customers still find those features of value?

A&E Television Networks, HISTORY. Old West – 1873 – Levi Strauss patents copper-riveted jeans [Web log post]. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from

LS&CO. Unzipped Team (2014, April 17). Those Oft-Forgotten Pant Parts [Web log post]. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from

Downey, Lynn – LS&CO. Historian (2014, May 22). Throwback Thursday: The 501 Jean Turns 141 [Web log post]. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from

Shamsian, Jacob (2018, March 11). Here's why your pants have a teeny tiny pocket that's too small to use. Retrieved from

Friedman, Uri (2015, May 27). A Brief History of the Wristwatch. Retrieved from

Belcheroct, David (2013, October 23). Wrist Watches: From Battlefield to Fashion Accessory. Retrieved from

Trimble, Marshall (2010, June 26). When did belt loops become common? Retrieved from

FashionUnited (2016, September 26). Infographic - Data from the Denim Industry. Retrieved from