Bots Brothers: Brooks Introduces Innovative AI, Reverse Mentoring

No idea if Brooks plans to retro-innovate and reintroduce the styles and fabrics from the pre-’87 era, but it is taking a bold step forward with artificial intelligence. Multiple news sources reported today on a press conference Brooks gave yesterday, in which it claimed it will be the first to implement an end-to-end AI-powered platform.

Forbes reports:

“The trend that’s becoming visible in the industry is better customization and a more personalized approach with consumers,” Brooks Brothers chairman and CEO Claudio Del Vecchio said in an exclusive interview. “Fashion is by definition changing. All the changes are happening faster. The ability to react faster is becoming more important. … Company-directed marketing is much less effective. … We need to predict what customers want. AI is the solution.”

Del Vecchio, whose father is the founder of the Italian eyewear giant Luxottica and who bought Brooks Brothers in 2001 from British retailer Marks Spencer, knows the importance of keeping Brooks Brothers in tune with customer demands. He bought the company when it was in decline, after lesser merchandise quality had alienated its core customers. He acknowledges that in recent years Brooks Brothers hasn’t been immune to the changing consumer behaviors that have blindsided the fashion industry and led to store closings and declining sales at retailers including Macy’s and rivals including Ralph Lauren.

“We got caught by the same storm as everybody else,” Del Vecchiotold me. “The biggest surprise (for the industry) is the speed at which the transformation happens and the way the customers shop. … As an industry, we went from opening another store to closing another store.”

And speaking of innovation:

Attracting millennials as shoppers also involves putting them in management positions. The company has named a 27-year-old as its head of stores, the 61-year-old Del Vecchio told me.

“We rely a lot on younger people,” he said. “We call it reverse mentoring. We used to mentor them. Now those kids tell us what to do.”

To have your computer’s voice feature read you the entire story, head over here. — CC

Robot tie via here.

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26 Comments on "Bots Brothers: Brooks Introduces Innovative AI, Reverse Mentoring"

  1. C Madison Malmo | November 30, 2018 at 4:38 pm |

    Legitimately thought this headline was a joke at first glance.

  2. What. A. Disaster.

  3. I recently read an article that claimed more Millenials than ever are moving to the suburbs. Which should be indicative of the absurdity of obsessing over what so called Millenials want/do/say. Of course they are moving to the suburbs, they are getting older. Their parents, and most of their grandparents, did the same thing. These artificial generations aren’t so different from one another.

  4. Canadian Trad | November 30, 2018 at 5:47 pm |

    Agreed, Caustic Man. The generations theory is relatively useless.

    I’m already sick of Brooks’ digital strategies. Stalking me home to my inbox after I browse ties on the site does not make me want to buy anything.

  5. I agree that “All the changes are happening faster,” and I’ve come to terms with being a relic. I don’t care to understand the changes occurring or buy a robot club tie. That said, would someone please explain the appropriate occasion to wear a diamond bow tie. I wear bow ties but don’t have one of these, or plan to get one: https://www.otaa.com/collections/diamond-bow-ties

  6. It’s amusing to the point of absurdity–the sporadic-yet-frequent attempts at construing the style in question as “youthful.” Designers and marketers try to convince us that, yes indeed,, the soul of Ivy is the spry, cocksure, devil-may-care lad swaggering across a prep school (or college) campus. …Hmmm. What about the many Heyday era ads that made reference to the style as “conservative”? What about the roots of the look as haute Anglo American (remember those pre-Depression Brooks catalogs?). What about the not-at-all-subtle affiliations with all things Fogey?

    Some of the look is sporty (countryside, athletic fields, tennis court, boat house…), but, at its best, it provoked the attention of the older (and serious) gentleman…or the younger man who wanted to look like an older gentleman. This must be a persistent source of aggravation for modern-day designers who hope to catch the fickle, fleeting eye of millennials. Good luck with that. As generations go, they’re as capricious, unpredictable, and impulsive as any we’ve yet seen.

    There are pockets of Fogey throughout the world, and it’s a safe bet they’ll be drawn to tweed, repp, oxford cloth, flannel, hard-wearing worsteds, and quality calfskin shoes. As for the Millennial hipsters: they have J. Crew. Isn’t that enough?

  7. That’s it. It’s been 200 years time to close up shop, thanks for the memories. The Brooks brothers can’t spin fast enough in their graves at the sound of “now those kids tell us what to do.” It used to be that the senior most salesman was the most respected, now it’s AI and millennials.

  8. The “kids today” (whatever trendy term describes them) seem to have made the decision that they’re not going to change clothes. Put it on when you get up, work, play, party, go out to eat, help the band get on the road, etc. in the same outfit. That outfit isn’t going to be $1500 worth of Brooks or Press, nor is it going to need to be dry cleaned and pressed, or shined, or re-soled, and it’s not intended to be worn for years.

    Use AI if it feels good, but I know what it’ll say: cheap cotton

  9. Jesse Livermore | November 30, 2018 at 9:55 pm |

    Re: Diamond bow tie.

    James Bond wore one in Dr. No so a date with an Ursula Andress-type would make sense.

  10. Comical, but I’m not laughing. Yet again, just, another nail in their coffin!
    Why doesn’t del Vecchio simply give up and sell the company to someone who can perform CPR, while there is still a faint beating pulse. The longer he owns it, the less it will be worth should it even survive him.
    Jim M.

  11. I want to hate this but I have no idea what it even means.

  12. Of course they are moving to the suburbs, they are getting older. Their parents, and most of their grandparents, did the same thing. These artificial generations aren’t so different from one another.

    Incorrect. The most recent generation(s), the forums that we post on notwithstanding, neither knows
    much about or gives a crap about tailored clothing, let alone Ivy or Trad clothing. My generation and my
    father’s did no matter our sense of style or taste.

  13. Matt Robare | December 1, 2018 at 1:12 am |

    Makes me think of this scene from Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” https://youtu.be/VV2N4KSh3x4

    Speaking as a millennial, maybe my friends and I are strange, but we want tradition. We want craftsmanship. We’ve been working with “AI” up to our eyeballs. If we’re not buying Brooks Brothers *or J Press or Andover Shop) it’s because we can’t afford to spend $1000 on a single outfit. And we’re not moving to the suburbs. We’re moving anywhere there’s affordable housing.

  14. Most readers of this blog want BB to somehow regress back to 60’s heyday – that’s not happening. Nor is there some mythical buyer out there who will do a better job of running BB.

    My opinion: BB products are so much better today than they were 35 years ago when I first started buying them.

    I’m not sure that I’d wear that tie, even though I work in AI and blockchain. Give BB credit for experimenting a bit.

  15. … also, I agree with @MattRobare. We’re already dealing w/ so much change in our lives, the last thing we need is to constantly change our wardrobe. Trad rules.

  16. Caustic Man | December 1, 2018 at 7:55 am |

    “We’re moving anywhere there’s affordable housing.”

    That’s exactly the point the author was making. And it just so happens that affordable housing is in the suburbs. Just like it has been for generations of families. 🙂

  17. Went to a talk by the ‘futurist’ Richard Susskind a year or so ago. The affable host introducing him made a self-deprecating remark about being somewhat of a ‘luddite’ (amused chuckles from the crowd) and then Susskind proceeded to lay out how AI would soon replace all professions, even doctors and lawyers (the talk was sponsored by a law school). I came away thinking, why NOT have some modicum of a conscious and willing ‘slowdown’ of the automation/AI train (i.e. neo-Ludditism lite)? To what end do we pursue ‘efficiency’ with such blind alacrity? First, the social dislocation will be a disaster — it is simply not the case that many (most, even 95%) of individuals in society can simply ‘take up painting’ (as Susskind glibly suggested) when their labor is no longer required. People derive meaning, satisfaction, and joy from their vocation, even if it is hard work (for those who have done manual labor, how good does that beer taste at the end of a long day? How bitter would it be mid-afternoon on a listless Wednesday?). Second, at what point do we simply sacrifice what makes life worth living? There was talk that evening of AI writing novels — Susskind said it was possible (already, in Japan I believe, an AI-produced work made the short list of some literary prize); I said it was categorically impossible. The sine qua non of a novel is that it is a human art from (IMO, THE human art form). No matter how ‘well’ written or entertaining, no matter how polished by whatever criteria (and no matter how easily it might ‘fool’ a credulous reader), a ‘story’ (fiction) created by AI simply ceases to BE a ‘novel’. Mutatis mutandis, I submit that the same principle applies to clothing — do we really want to walk around in ‘fashion’ (patterns, cuts, materials etc.) selected by AI? Don’t we lose something? What’s the point? Humanity is what we are and all that we have, why sacrifice it in the race towards greater concentration of capital (the purpose of the ‘efficiency’ AI purports to deliver)? Sure, poverty and disease remain, and I’m not advocating flipping the ‘off’ switch, but let’s get a little perspective here! Even Susskind — no socialist by ANY stretch — when pressed in the Q&A, could only concede that Universal Basic Income was likely the only solution in the coming future. Do we think we’ll be happier then? Isolated and alone, absent the bustle of a workweek lunch, darting for the drycleaning on the way back to the office, meeting and greeting the whirling mass of other Adults spinning through the great game of Work & Life and all that made this whole thing worth doing? Why why why

  18. I view this as positive. It could allow niche styles, such as Ivy, to remain available. They’re following individuals, not trends. That’s good.

    Re: millennials in suburbs, they are joining middle-class Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and South Asians in moving to the older suburbs that have seen their better days. The housing is less expensive than downtown, the commute is easier than from areas farther out, and the cultural diversity is more interesting to them than the new, lily-white, Anywhere-America burbs.

    One of America’s most diverse zip codes is in Irving, Texas, an old suburb of Dallas and where the Cowboys used to play. Texas Stadium was recently rented out, if I remember correctly, for a Muslim fair.

  19. Charles Dana | December 1, 2018 at 10:59 am |

    Brooks Brothers’ latest attempt to reinvent itself, as least as described in the Forbes article, doesn’t perturb me. First, I refuse to get emotionally attached to any business. A business exists to sell what the free market wants right now. It’s just a matter of buying and selling stuff. That’s all. There’s no love, no poetry involved–just a matter of financial transactions.

    Sure, businesses are always trying, via marketing campaigns, to manipulate (to some degree) what the market “wants.” Still, the consumers make the final decision about what will sell or not. I won’t argue with the free market. It wants what it wants. And if I want something else, I’ll figure out a way to get it.

    Second, marketing heavily to the young ‘uns is nothing new for Brooks Brothers. During the first half of the 20th Century, BB worked hard to establish itself as one of the go-to places for boarding school and Eastern collegiate clothing. BB’s traveling salesmen always had their finger on the pulse of the college and college-bound crowd during that period.

    In the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, the Ivy-inspired clothing that today’s “Trads” prefer–and that, to them, is the epitome of conventional, conservative attire–was marketed by BB (and by other purveyors of similar apparel) as “loungy,” “relaxed,” “easy,” and “collegiate.” That type of clothing was cutting-edge; it wasn’t intended for grown-ups–until it was, later on, when the college graduates carried their sartorial tastes into adulthood.

    Like any business, BB has to adapt or die. If we’re not pleased with what BB needs to do to stay relevant, tough. Love people. And animals. (Including cats. Don’t forget to love the kitty-cats.) But getting emotional over a business? Eh.

    There’s still O’Connell’s. For now.

  20. well said @charlesdana

  21. @RDM – AI-aided design is simply another tool to help humans create better products and services for other humans more quickly and efficiently.

  22. @ Fred

    Did you even read my post? My entire POINT was to question our obsession with ‘efficiency’ at all costs. Both you and @charlesdana demonstrate the complete infiltration of that greatest of dogmas in the our present age: progress for its own sake. This has become so internalized that it has become ‘as the air we breathe’ and therefore completely invisible to our critical faculties. My point is: progress for what? Again, this isn’t to deride the miracle that is the impartial sorting of the free market, but simply not to submit as though to a God our ability to assess to what end we unleash those market forces. The teleology of the AI revolution, as I see it, is the complete concentration of capital in the hands of a single individual atop a single corporation. Now, this may seem exceedingly far-fetched; likely we would never reach that point. But the current system operates with this as the implicit though un-examined goal (imagine Amazon could replace *every* worker via AI and automation — they would, and they are trying, and Bezos — and shareholders — stand atop an ever increasing pile of money; such is the zenith of ‘efficiency’). My point is that there *is* art in clothes and fashion (we are on a website dedicated to a specific aesthetic). To enter AI into the equation is to cease producing ‘fashion’ and instead produce some kind of simulacrum in its place, dead and without spirit. Why should we want this? For “efficiency’s” sake?

  23. Charles Dana | December 2, 2018 at 11:48 am |

    RBM: First of all, thank you! You stated that I “demonstrate the complete infiltration of that greatest of dogmas in our present age….” You made me sound important. I had no idea I had such power. I’ll try not to let it go to my head. It might knock off my natty fedora.

    About “progress for its own sake”: Life would indeed be much more convenient and pleasant for me if I could be-bop into BB and find trousers with a proper rise and a plethora of 3-2 sacks. But (a) that’s not today’s reality and (b) I’m not going to let a mere clothing merchant spoil my mood. So why worry? There are more momentous problems to fret about; e.g., slicing open a Bartlett pear and finding a mushy brown section. I hate when that happens.

    You also stated that there is “art” in clothes and fashion. I agree completely. To be sure, there’s workwear that is truly utilitarian, but for our purposes, aesthetics in what we wear is just as important as function. Perhaps more so. But no matter how important art and aesthetics are when it comes to designing practically all consumer goods–clothes, wallpaper, tableware, kitchen appliances–eventually all of those goods leave the factory and go to the sales floor. And that’s when the designers bow out and the salspersons and accountants take over. Business owners can’t meet their payroll and feed their families with art; to do those things, they need cash. No cash, then no company and no food. Where does the cash come from? From willing buyers. If merchandise doesn’t move, get rid of it and try something else. A store isn’t a warehouse.

    Then you said, “The teleology of the AI revolution…is the complete concentration of capital in the hands of a single individual atop a single corporation.” Oh yeah? That’s a pretty serious claim, and I intend to discuss it with you further. Just as soon as I figure out what “teleology” means.

  24. @Charles Dana

    *tips own fedora*

    No disagreement as to the necessity of commerce; my point is that at the ‘design’ stage the removal of the human element strips art from the product — the process might become more ‘efficient’ by streamlining the design process in this way (hell, the clothes themselves might even look really good if the AI is good at what it does), but I object to it on principle. Even the ‘stylish’ clothes would be spiritless (much as the beautifully written but AI-produced story would not be a true ‘novel’). Again, the objection is philosophical based on a deep humanism.

    Teleology basically means that forward historical movement is towards a precise and specific end state or end goal — I posit that the logical culmination of capitalism is the consolidation of all wealth in a single individual/corporation. Think of it this way: automation is more ‘efficient’ because it eliminates labour and turns it into capital. Corporations pursue such efficiency so as to facilitate this concentration. What is ‘efficient’ is that which maximizes profit — the less costs associated with things like labour the more revenues become net profit (are ‘maximized’). As I said in my post, if Amazon could fully and completely automate their business (consumers purchase through website, AI administers and monitors entire interface, drones find book/product in warehouse, drones deliver to consumer) they would. If Amazon could buy out all of their competitors, they would. (This demonstrates the importance of anti-trust laws, even as lawmakers appear reluctant to apply them to the tech giants.) Same with google, if they could develop an AI to replace all of their software engineers, they would in a heartbeat, just as they rapaciously gobble up tech competitors. Now, all of this activity would be essentially unimpeachable given that it is by definition ‘more efficient’. The point being that appeals to ‘efficiency’ should not be and cannot be an argument onto itself. As I think we would agree, an economy with zero labour force would be disastrous; life would be devoid of meaning for the vast majority of people. So the question has to be: efficiency *for what purpose*. Up until now, progress and efficiency HAVE been good because more value is generated in the economy which leads to more opportunities and wealth for the greatest number of people. But this does not mean that the blind pursuit of efficiency should remain the organising principle of society in perpetuity. The time may come to take a step back and evaluate whether or not some deliberate INefficiency is necessary to preserve those things which, after all, make life worth living in the first place: meaning, happiness, satisfaction etc.

    So when BB rolls out this type of ‘we’re cutting edge and adapting to the times’ prattle, I lament that none of their decision-makers has the perspicacity to evaluate the basic, dogmatic assumptions which make such a move appear to be an unalloyed good.

  25. @RDM – I get your point – I too often long for a return to previous times.

    However, we’ve been progressing as a species for quite a while.

    It’s unstoppable and there’s no point in trying to fight it.

    i.e. blockchain is going to take over the world whether I play a role in it or not.

  26. Henry Contestwinner | December 3, 2018 at 5:05 pm |

    BC,

    The diamond-point bow tie is always an appropriate variant instead of the flat-ended standard. The shape is found as an option for white tie and black tie, so certainly it is fine for wear with a suit, blazer, or sport coat.

    Incidentally, it’s my preference, and all my bespoke ties are that shape. Thank you, Cordial Churchman!

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