From Quality To PR: Muffy’s Rise and Fall of Trad Clothiers

Muffy Aldrich of The Daily Prep has just put up a perspicacious analysis of 25 companies on her preppy radar. Included are many of Tradsville’s favorite clothiers: Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Ralph Lauren, Mercer & Sons, LL Bean, Alden and Bills Khakis.

Aldrich plots them on a line with small handcrafted startups like Kiel James Patrick on one end, and Eddie Bauer and Abercrombie & Fitch — two companies that bear no resemblance to their original selves — on the other. On one end are products made entirely in America, while on the other are products made entirely overseas.

Aldrich’s analysis is most interesting on those advanced, globalized companies once known for unquestionable quality and predictable merchandising — companies now at the Cash Grab stage of their development. At this point, writes Aldrich:

• There is significant confusion for traditional customers
• Some classics remain, but fewer
• There are wild fluctuations of price (higher prices, then massive sales)
• New products are low quality and relatively expensive
• The companies increasingly outsource production to low-cost providers
• They have giant PR budgets
• Customers start to experience return fatigue
• There is a big opportunity for management to personally cash in with a one-time windfall

Who is the prime example here? According to Aldrich, it’s LL Bean:

LL Bean is peering into the abyss. I can now only buy six items from LL Bean with any confidence: Norwegian Sweaters, Boat and Totes, Bean Boots, Chamois Shirts, Flannel Shirts and Ragg Socks. It is worth noting that none of these is made in China, and the socks, bags and boots are all US made.

Click here for the complete post. — CC

31 Comments on "From Quality To PR: Muffy’s Rise and Fall of Trad Clothiers"

  1. You can’t honestly be posting this. There is not an ounce of scientific proof to back any of this up. This chart based upon one woman’s off-the-hip assessments whose last blog posting consisted of 10 reasons “I love my bracelet.” See i.e. http://www.muffyaldrich.com/2011/01/10-things-i-love-about-my-kiel-james.html.

    Christian, I understand your desire to post interesting information on company profiles, but a lot of these companies above make their earnings/productions statements open to the public, why not instead pull these up and make some legit findings–rather than Muffy’s assumptions with the help of her hubby “who used to work at Gartner as an analyst.”

    I’m sorry, I simply don’t see how this has any value other than misleading others. If that’s your goal, then that is fine, but I have always believed that if you want to make a valid case, you use good and credible data.

    Sorry to be harsh, but you can do better than this.

  2. I think Abercrombie should be listed first. It became a shell long before the others.

  3. Agreed with LG, not sure the love affair with Kiel James Patrick… I have a belt from him, a gift from a friend. The stuff is just o.k. – the bracelets = garbage.

    And it is totally confusing how it is structured. Very sloppy. Alden should be first…

  4. Alden is over a hundred years old. Is it still in the crucible stage?

  5. Agreed, LG, there is no scientific proof to back this up. However, it has entertainment value.

    Posting quarterly reports is an interesting idea. There’s certainly scientific proof, though I’m not sure how much entertainment value.

  6. Another reason why this graphic is so confusing….
    It is hard to tell how things are being categorized…

    Alden is iconic. More so than Orvis which is putting out alot of lower quality goods lately…

  7. I don’t understand what value earnings statements would contribute to the discussion. Or how they would constitute “scientific proof” of anything. As I see it, this chart is supposed to deal with brand image, not corporate performance.

  8. The chart, and especially Muffy’s analysis, deals with a lot more than brand image.

  9. The earnings of the companies would be irrelevant.

    Abercrombie & Fitch does not belong on the list, because the present company bought the name from the previous company, and is not a continuation of the operations of the previous company.

  10. I think she makes some interesting observations and her conclusions are right on. That said, she’s still nuts.

  11. Vern Trotter | January 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm |

    Nothing personal but the wise Chief does not let his squaw pick out his skins, pelts and feathers.

  12. “The chart, and especially Muffy’s analysis, deals with a lot more than brand image” — there may be other things going on, but for me, the crux of the story is the evolution of these companies’ brands, and what actions they take to retain, enhance, or destroy their brand value. I don’t think it can be taken as an assessment of the companies themselves (financially, operationally) because that does indeed beg the need, as others have done, for objective data as opposed to subjective impressions.

  13. Precisely, it’s the evolution of the brand as a whole, not just its image. But that’s probably what you meant.

    Of course it has nothing to do with their profitability.

    This is from the point of view of a consumer of these companies’ goods, using their own kind of data chart, power point presentation against them. I thought it very clever.

  14. If some of you go back and read Muffy’s post again, she clearly states that her analysis is her own opinion and not the last word on anything–which is generally how she qualifies most of her posts. I can’t say I’m sure what makes her any more “nuts” than the rest of us who are having this conversation and imbuing it with our own meanings. But whether you find her conclusions right or wrong, I think we could all do with a little less name-calling. It’s not as though the fate of the free world were at stake.

  15. Roy R. Platt | January 20, 2011 at 6:17 pm |

    Rather odd to see Barbour not on the way down, as many of their products are no longer made in the UK, but in Third-World countries and their shirt sizing seems a bit bizarre. The sleeves of a Barbour “Medium” shirt are four to six inches longer than a “Medium” shirt from Brooks Bros, Faconnable, Orvis, Land’s End, L. L. Bean, or Viyella. A Barbour “Medium” shirt also has a much fuller body than the “Medium” shirts of any of manufacturers that I have mentioned. Barbour seems to be operated by Labour Party members who think that most Country Squires are morbidly obese Orangutans and the size their shirts to fit morbidly obese Orangutans.

    As I am at least thirty years older than Mrs Aldrich (I will be 64 next month) she doesn’t realize how far down Brooks Bros. has come. The suits and odd jackets that I bought there in the 1960’s and 1970’s are far superior and were a far better value than anything that Brooks Bros. has sold for quite some time (and yes, I have worn the same size since 1964……only change have been my feet, which have become wider).

  16. Bill Stephenson | January 21, 2011 at 5:15 am |

    The thing that you wonder about is where the market for quality Ivy is? In order for one of these brands to perform in a way that most of us would give high marks to, they first have to tap into a significant market that will allow them to generate sufficient revenue. If they can’t generate an adequate return on equity, they are running a museum that we would all love, but that would soon fail.

    Look at commercial airline passengers, and how they dress. Look at the way that many dress for church. Check out mall atire. Any sign of a quality market? Outside of the readers here, The Daily Prep, and a few others, what these merchants seem to be trying to deal with is the slobification of America. How do you get these people to buy their offerings? The answer has to be making cheap stuff that gets thrown away after a year, and remember the wisdom of the quote that; “the masses are asses”.

    Mercer, Alden, Paul Wiston and a few others have a small market that they can serve profitably, and without sacrificing quality. They have all of the business that they want, and can serve.The rest are trying to tap into the slobification market, and most of us here aren’t too thrilled with their offerings. Many of the brands that we used to respect, downgrade their merchandise, and throw it into the discount malls.

    Maybe there just aren’t enough of us for them to consider a market large enough to try to tap into. You might manufacture robes for left handed monks from Tibet, but the market is a small one.

  17. I don’t get the appeal of those silly KJP trinkets at all – I would certainly never wear it or give it as a gift to anyone I know/care about. To me, they’re a half notch above frat “jewelry” sold by Abercrombie and American Eagle….all that rope/shell/hemp junk that’s been hawked for years. The bracelets are tacky and the belts unoriginal….as such, I don’t care where it’s made.

    I’m guessing his market is high school seniors and the “I just discovered preppy clothing! Meet me at Vineyard Vines…” set – which is fine, if not limited – but the stuff should hardly be compared to other brands listed on the left of this chart. I appreciate his entrepreneurial spirit, and don’t wish him to fail, but let’s not compare trendy, fashion prep do-dads with Alden, Quoddy and Patagonia.

  18. Would like to see Smathers and Branson on there over KJP. I have an SB belt in the blue mahi mahi needlepoint with a monogram. Possibly the nicest belt I own and is . Plus I’m 23 and something tells me if I wore a KJP bracelet I would have trouble getting laid. Then again what am I saying I go to a state school where girls are……

  19. Accidentally pressed enter or something. Anyways …Possibly is the nicest belt I own and is handmade and has an American brass buckle.

  20. needlepoint belts aren’t Ivy.

  21. Neither are Converse sneakers, Vespa scooters, nor Jean-Paul Belmondo, but they all somehow found their way into “The Ivy Look.”

  22. While I’m not saying this is an authority by any means, well- i just think it is funny that you would make a statement like that and not try to back it up whatsoever. So:

    @ allen:

    http://www.ivy-style.com/designer-forum-new-york-recap.html#more-940

    go to the middle of the page, actually i’ll just tell you what it says.

    “Smathers & Branson specializes in needlepoint belts and accessories, and also hold licenses for many colleges. The Ivies agreed to belts and keychains, but not flasks:” – and that is not a promotional statement- that is written by this site.

    AND @ Christian: if I remember correctly if you look at the Take Ivy book there are crew team members wearing converse in a few pictures.

    I mean am i wrong here

  23. OK, but Jean-Paul Belmondo did not go to Princeton.

  24. ScoobyDubious | January 21, 2011 at 9:38 pm |

    MCM opined:

    “AND @ Christian: if I remember correctly if you look at the Take Ivy book there are crew team members wearing converse in a few pictures.”

    Huh? I fail to see any logic there whatsoever. It’s not like there were 300 brands to choose from at the time. I think Opie Taylor on the Andy Griffith Show also wore converse. Does that make converse “Country”?

    Just because you can find some photo of a random douchebag Ivy League student doing, or wearing, or holding something doesn’t make it instantly “Ivy”.

    That’s the fundamental flaw, or misinterpretation, of that “Ivy Look” book. They find a random Camel ad from an old Esquire that shows some dude wearing khakis on a fishing boat and suddenly Camel cigarettes are “Ivy”! Why that doesn’t also make fishing “Ivy” I’m not sure.

    I could probably also find a Camel ad from the same time period with a cowboy sitting on horse. But that doesn’t fit in their fantasy. Well, their “Ivy” fantasy anyway…

  25. @allen — “needlepoint belts aren’t ivy” — in the late ’70s I made friends with a kid from the du Pont family of Delaware. He often wore a colorful but battered old needlepoint belt with the initials PSDP IV, or some such. I asked him about it and he said it was his father’s, which he had had woven for him by one of his sisters as a graduation gift from Andover on his way to Princeton.

  26. Wow, one little mention of “The Ivy Look” and Scooby comes out with his fangs sharpened.

  27. ScoobyDubious | January 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm |

    @Christian

    Yeah, well needlepoint belts leave me completely cold. So no comments there.

    Condescending Brits telling Americans how to be Americans is a pet peeve. It’s been bugging my family since my new england ancestors kicked their asses in the revolution.

    However I have complimented the photos in the book. It’s just the silly text that sometimes grates.

  28. A pretty good bit of analysis, all the Joabs would do well to remember that some of the most successful and insightful clothing marketeers have been/are women (Burberry anyone?). These are businesses guys, they exist to make money, not to provide photos for CC’s albums. Britain and Italy were full of companies that no longer exist because they were set in amber. Moving with the times is not incompatible with retaining the good. BB gets a lot of stick but imho their strategy has in the main been masterly since they acquired by the Italian gent about seven years ago.Had he not purchased the business (for around $350 million from M&S who paid a billion dollars for it ten years earlier) it would almost certainly have been out of business by now. Brands like Barbour are trying to grow their business and may or may not be successful (and who the heck would ever buy shirts there so who cares if they sell shirts made in China). RL provides the proof that if you are skilful it’s possible to maintain the core integrity of your brand while selling merchandise at widely divergent price points.

  29. Bose is in the company shell stage.

  30. LOL. Needle point belts, just because one du Pont wore one in Princeton does not make them IVY, and while he may have worn it in Andover, I doubt if one has ever been seen any where near the corner of Bow and Arrow Streets. But I have seen many a Converse high tops going up the Widener steps.

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