Gray Fleece: Brooks Brothers’ Skilled But Aging Workforce

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Early in my career I wrote a feature story on skilled trades that were fast dying out, such as watch and clock repair. These days the typically male worker who doesn’t go to college and who likes to work with his hands is more likely to take a technology-based job, such as setting up your Internet connection or installing home theater systems. Things like watch and shoe repair are largely dependent on our immigrant workforce. Same goes for anything that has to do with tailoring.

On Wednesday a story popped up in my newsfeed called “Why Brooks Brothers Is Investing In Veteran Tailors.” Brooks still owns and operates a factory in Long Island City, which is located just across the East River from Brooks Brothers‘ Madison Avenue headquarters. All the brand’s neckties are made there, and alterations done, by a skilled but aging workforce. Here’s the article’s description of the employees:

Though the factory’s 222 employees range in age from 22 to 80, more than half are 55 or older. The average tenure is 30 years. The plant is an example of age diversity, providing a glimpse of where the U.S. workplace may soon be heading as the population ages. Almost 20 percent of Americans 65 or older were employed last year, up from 12 percent a decade ago. More seniors are keeping their jobs beyond traditional retirement age, because they want to continue working and often need the income. At the same time, manufacturers, retailers, and even legacy technology companies are rediscovering the value of older, more seasoned workers and are taking steps to keep them.

Coincidentally, yesterday I picked up Brooks’ new primavera catalog, which also includes an article about Brooks’ Long Island City factory and “arguably America’s most skilled and knowledgeable necktie labor force.” It concludes:

… Brooks Brothers recently renewed its lease there, ensuring that the company’s ties will continue to come from that same unassuming building in Queens — and that the brand’s commitment to domestic production will continue to buck the industry trend.

As America’s workforce overall is graying, cheers to Brooks for employing — and paying a premium — for these older workers. In fact, in December Brooks won an Age Smart Award from a program affiliated with Columbia University (the Wall Street Journal wrote about it here). Let’s hope Brooks can also attract and train the next generation of needle artisans. — CC

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15 Comments on "Gray Fleece: Brooks Brothers’ Skilled But Aging Workforce"

  1. Why,with all those young unemployeds that there are,is not replacement in the artisan works?

  2. Henry Contestwinner | March 11, 2016 at 2:39 pm |

    I’m afraid the entitlement mentality is too strong among many young people, Carmelo. They think they deserve the best, right away, and don’t want to start at the bottom and work their way up.

  3. HC–>Or, because they cannot afford to live in or near NYC on the wages BB pays unless they bought their house or leased their rent controlled apartment in 1982, like the veteran employees, who still have to work till they are 80 to make ends meet.

  4. I’m 63, a retired CPA, and don’t ever want to work again. Retirement is possible for people of modest means if the person is willing to live a Spartan life. Most people don’t. I’d venture to say most of the older workers out there work because they need the money. As a CPA, I saw clients who saved nothing. Another big reason is a retiree loses his/her identity upon retirement. Your old workmates just do not know you anymore. As was told to me by a co-worker years ago, “We’re not friends, working here has thrown us together, and we all make the best of it.” True.

    My late father used to talk about losing his identity upon retirement. Dr. or Mr. So and So, is just Jim or Joe after retirement. He’s the guy sitting at the club, a bar, or other public place with too much time on his hands, especially if he’s not rolling in cash.

    The local mall has a senior center. For a modest sum, an old person can join, drink coffee, read, play pool, sit and talk to other old people. My thought, “OH BOY!” I’d rather go to work.

    Anyhow, for me, I’ve always lived an active life. I’ve always worked to live, not live to work. Golf has always been my passion.

    Dad used to say, “Retire at first opportunity. You may not get a second chance.”

  5. When President Trump raises a 45% tariff on foreign goods these workers can strike for higher wages. 😉

  6. But it really does?

  7. Jacob Jingle Hiemer Schmidt | March 11, 2016 at 10:10 pm |

    Jaazus, you guys are nattering nabobs of negativism, aren’t yous?

    Young folks feel entitled and deserve the very best of the very best and right now – yes, every single one of them. Or, they can’t afford the high rents of NYC, so everyone who works at B2 possesses a rent control or owns their house from waaaay back and can otherwise afford NYC prices. Yes, yes, very true. Or, people work beyond retirement age because they either refuse to live a Spartan’s life, need the buckaroonies, or completely lose their identity (whatever that is) once they retire, so don’t or can’t or won’t retire and thereby clog up the system. Whatever.

    Do you people ever think?

    Maybe people just like what they do. Is it possible that they just they just like working for B2. Maybe they like their jobs. Maybe they like the people they work with. Perhaps they like the things they do when they are at work. And, maybe they like the money they get to make. Is that possible? Maybe they even think they contribute in some positive way – OMG!

  8. Kenneth K. Beck | March 12, 2016 at 12:54 am |

    I would have said : “Brooks Brothers’ Aging But Skilled Workforce”, rather than “: Brooks Brothers’ “Skilled But Aging Workforce”.

  9. V.A.H. Moran | March 12, 2016 at 3:34 am |

    KKB: You certainly got that right!

  10. There can’t be all that many, since most Brooks suits are made in Italy. For shame!

  11. And for even shame Brooks Brothers suits and coats of today are far from the natural shoulder sack style.
    The problem in this field is to have someone that understands the traditional Brooks style.
    I have fear that neither Del Vecchio neither his guys understand this.
    And yet the “natural soft tailoring” have a great success today (see for exemple the Neapolitan style);
    So why not a comeback of American natural shoulder sack?
    The sack can be cut in a very sohisticate way,more close to body (but still undarted) ,with high amshole (but still comfortable and soft),and with a “sexy” rolls of lapels.
    There is not fear to have a boxy unshaped garnment….
    …..If only you understand the style and his history.

  12. Carmelo,
    Some of us want boxy, unshaped garments.

  13. Lafcadio: May I suggest the fine wares available at your local Men’s Wearhouse

  14. DCG:
    Even the “portly fit” by Men’s Wearhouse has darts and waist suppression. The other fits are even worse.

  15. If you’re looking for boxy, the thick cardboardesque shoulder padding at MW or Jos A Bank can’t be beat! As for waist suppression, a dry cleaning or two will stretch out the petroleum-based fabric nicely for a comfortable, fresh-from-the-laboratory feel and a limp, puckering look!

    Natural shoulders aren’t boxy, and an unshaped garment takes a lot of shaping to get right, which is why they’re hard to find!

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