By Sapna Maheshwari

New York Times News Service

For one day, the New York Stock Exchange was denim friendly.

Levi Strauss & Co., the company that traces its roots to the days of the California Gold Rush, started trading publicly Thursday for the second time in its 165-year history.

Traders in New York were clad in denim pants and jean jackets, as the stock exchange suspended its prohibition on wearing jeans for the day.

The company’s shares, which were priced at $17 each, rose 32 percent in their first day of trading, ending the day at $22.41 and pushing Levi’s valuation above $8.5 billion.

“The floor looked awesome,” Charles Bergh, the company’s chief executive, said in a phone interview. “The irony is, there’s a sign when you walk onto the floor saying, ‘No jeans allowed.’”

Levi’s has been undergoing a turnaround for the better part of the past decade under Bergh, who joined the company in 2011. The San Francisco company has yet to return to its peak of the 1990s, but the executive has overseen an increase in sales to $5.6 billion last year, with net profit of $285 million.

The company was founded by Levi Strauss, who immigrated to the United States from Bavaria and set up shop in San Francisco in 1853 with a wholesale dry goods business. Twenty years later, he and a business partner received a patent for “waist overalls” with metal rivets at points of strain — a garment known today as the blue jean.

The company first listed its shares in the 1970s, but was taken private in 1985 through a leveraged buyout led by descendants of Strauss, known as the Haas family. Strauss died without children in 1902 and left the company to his nephews. Family members have controlled the business ever since.

Bergh said that Levi’s chose to return to public markets because of the renewed strength of the brand and its growth potential in categories like women’s apparel and international markets.

Levi’s raised more than $100 million from the offering, which it plans to use for general corporate purposes and possibly for acquisitions, according to its regulatory filings.

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