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Levi Strauss back as public company, shares soar 30 percent

Jeans maker Levi Strauss soared 30 percent in its return as a public company, with Wall Street valuing the jeans maker at $8.7 billion more than three decades after it went private.

Shares of Levi Strauss started trading Thursday morning under the ticker LEVI on the New York Stock Exchange, which suspended its "no jeans allowed" rules to celebrate the company's return to Wall Street. More than 120 employees from Levi's global offices, including its CEO Chip Bergh, took part in the event, wearing jeans and donning white T-shirt with the company's red bat wing logo.

The San Francisco, California-based company late Wednesday priced its IPO at $17 per share, higher than the $14 to $16 range Levi Strauss and its bankers had suggested earlier this month. It offered about 36.7 million shares, bringing the total amount raised to $623.3 million. That valued all of Levi Strauss at around $6.6 billion, including shares outstanding after the IPO. Thursday morning's stock runup to around $22.20 a share pushed the company's market value to $8.7 billion. 

While the IPO market has heated up for large technology startups, relatively few retailers have opted to go public in recent years, which have been difficult for the sector at large. As Amazon changes the rules for brick-and-mortar chains, some longstanding brands instead looked to go private, as Levi Strauss did in 1985.

Other denim makers are also making changes as more shopping is done online and as consumers shifted from jeans to "athleisure" brands suitable for yoga.

VF Corp. plans to spin off its Wrangler, Lee and Rock & Republic brands into a new public entity for its jeanswear business called Kontoor Brands in coming months. It will keep The North Face and Timberland brands under the parent company. Another competitor, Gap, last month said it would split into two publicly traded companies: Old Navy and a yet-to-be-named company, in a process expected to take place next year. 

In its prospectus, Levi Strauss says it plans to use the proceeds to expand more aggressively into China, India and Brazil. It also is expanding its retail stores. As of late last year, Levi's operated 824 company-operated stores.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.