Shirts Off Their Back: Brooks, Largest Local Employer, Shutters Garland Factory

Brooks Brothers is shutting down its Garland, NC shirt factory, where its iconic oxford-cloth buttondowns are presently made. Local media reports:

Brooks Brothers is shutting down its shirt factory in Garland, a move that will eliminate nearly 150 jobs in the small Sampson County town where the clothing maker is the largest employer.

Brooks Brothers notified the N.C. Commerce Department about the closure on May 13 in a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification.

In a letter to the Commerce Department obtained by The News & Observer, Brooks Brothers cited “unforeseen business circumstances” related to the coronavirus pandemic as its reason for shutting down the factory. The location will close permanently on July 20, the letter states.

Garland, about 80 miles southeast of Raleigh, was home to one of only three Brooks Brothers factories in the U.S., The News & Observer previously reported. The others are in Haverhill, Mass., and Long Island City, New York. The Garland plant was the only U.S. factory making the classic button-down Oxford shirts.

Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio Del Vecchio told the New York Times in 2018 that the Garland factory was the only domestic plant that operates at a loss.

In 2018, Brooks Brothers closed a popular outlet store in Garland associated with the factory.

The deals at the store were legendary — a News & Observer story in 2006 noted that a shirt could go for $15, a wool jacket for $39, three khaki pants for $10. And even though Brooks Brothers never advertised the outlet’s existence, people would drive hours out of their way to shop at the store.

35 Comments on "Shirts Off Their Back: Brooks, Largest Local Employer, Shutters Garland Factory"

  1. Trevor Jones | May 16, 2020 at 12:48 pm |

    I’m currently wearing a uni-stripe OCBD purchased on eBay NWT made in Garland. I think the guy I bought it from has some sort of connection w/ the factory, he is selling all sorts of BB things (mostly OCBDs) at very low prices. This one was $35 compared the $140 on their website. He has loads of styles and sizes, I’ll try and find his profile and link it later. Great products and great deals. This plant will be missed!

  2. Hardbopper | May 16, 2020 at 1:15 pm |

    Sorry to hear this, but we saw it was coming. I’ve shopped the outlet store in Garland three or four times and ended up purchasing several ties and hangers. Presumptuous people think I spend a fortune on ties. It’s nice to drive out in the country, and the ladies working there were very nice. I have five shirts M2M at the Garland factory, and I wish I had more.

  3. Why are we surprised? Brooks chose to be a mall store (the “nice” mall, but still…) and the new customer base won’t pay that retail price. They don’t recognize the (fading) BB “mystique”. The competition isn’t Press and Mercer, it’s Macy’s and MW and maybe Nordstrom’s on sale.

  4. Thurman Punster | May 16, 2020 at 2:17 pm |

    “… The competition isn’t Press and Mercer, it’s Macy’s and MW and maybe Nordstrom’s on sale.”

    Yes.

    Trying to compete with a premium and “mystique” brand against shopping mall competitors is suicide.

    Brooks should be a niche seller with high quality and deserved snob appeal, with premium prices, with occasional sales, with decent margins, accepting modest gross sales to stay in that niche.

    But no one ever wants to do that.

  5. Another nail in the coffin for men’s tailored clothing. Only 48 years old but I feel like a granddad. Spandex and athleisure, cardigans, and high-waisted trousers, here I come!

  6. Roger Sack | May 16, 2020 at 3:39 pm |

    “I know it’s fun to bemoan loss of the good old days represented by Brooks, but the truth is we have a plethora of Ivy and trad clothing at our fingertips without ever having to visit Brooks. Go buy something from those places and make sure they succeed, even if Brooks fails!”

    No we don’t. Not is the Bay Area. There is no equivalent of O’Connells, the AndoverShop, Ben Silver.
    We have to take our chances by ordering online even from the likes of The Andover Shop. Not that I
    have bought anything from the local Brooks other than pajamas. And Cable Car Clothiers is a joke-
    dull 1958 Ivy clothing at 2030 prices

  7. Another chilling tale of globalism. Brooks Brothers, the quintessential American brand, has stores all over the world but cannot maintain a US factory.

  8. Charlottesville | May 16, 2020 at 4:09 pm |

    Such sad, if not unexpected, news. I wonder what other companies have their shirts made there. I had the idea that at least some of the shirts at J. Press came from Garland, but only because I was advised by a friend that the same eBay seller mentioned by Trevor Jones had some Press shirts on offer. Do Mercer, Ratio, Michael Spencer and O’Connell’s all use other US makers? If so, then this is still very sad news, especially for the townspeople, but not the bitter end for OCBDs. I hope that Southwick is not next. That would be a very real loss. Few makers of undarted suits and sport coats remain.

  9. How else can Brooks survive unless they outsource production to 13 cents/hour sweatshops in Asia?

    I’m surprised they still have a call center in Connecticut. Call centers in India in Latin America pay one dollar per day. Major companies like L.L. Bean and Saks Fifth Avenue have already shifted their call centers overseas.

  10. NaturalShoulder | May 16, 2020 at 4:38 pm |

    I believe Mercer makes their shirts in their own workrooms and Ratio uses the Garland factory. Not sure about any other purveyors. It is a shame about the closing of the Garland factory and may be harbinger of more closings of US based apparel manufacturers. I suspect demand will be down for the near future as folks look to preserve cash.

  11. MacMcConnell | May 16, 2020 at 4:44 pm |

    Charlottesville
    O’Connells heavy weight OCBDs are Gitman so I’ve been told. The shirts have an eight button front like Gitman’s. I’ve been getting my oxford cloths from O’Connells for a couple years and am happy.

  12. Apple designs in California and produces products in China.

    Brooks Brothers may need to do the same: American style, designed in Italy and produced in Vietnam.

  13. Anonymous | May 16, 2020 at 7:30 pm |

    When I started working in an office, l went to Jos. A Banks in Wash, DC. Brooks was across the corner. I couldn’t afford Brooks, and was actually a little intimidated if I went in there. But when I did, I was in awe of their stuff. Looking back 40 years, I see myself staring at the display cases. As time went on, l started buying a few items. Eventually I bought all of my clothes there. Every year on December 26 my wife and I went to the sale on Madison Ave. It was packed. I loved it. As Brooks changed, I gravitated to J Press. Whenever I went back to Brooks, just about everything was foreign made, which I don’t want to buy. I still bought their Garland shirts. Notwithstanding the fact that my infatuation with them cooled a long time ago, this announcement makes me feel really sad. The last piece of them that I liked has now gone the way of all the rest of their their once terrific merchandise. My wife says I just don’t like change, and that’s true, but still…

  14. Are the J. Press OCBDs made there too? I wonder how many other stores and entities, like Ratio and Michael Spencer, will be impacted by this.

  15. Reading the News & Observer article, this actually sounds like a negotiating tactic. I wonder if BB is trying to get concessions from the union, or from their creditors:

    In a statement to The News & Observer, a company spokesman said, “In the ordinary course of business, Brooks Brothers consistently explores various options to position the Company for growth and success. As part of this assessment, it is possible that our factory in Garland (NC) would close. We delivered WARN notices this week to the impacted employees in order to provide workers with sufficient time to prepare for potential loss of employment.

    “This decision is subject to change, should alternative solutions be uncovered in the near-term. The factory is incredibly meaningful to our heritage and we value our employees. All opportunities on the table are still being explored to avoid this difficult outcome.”

  16. Anonymous | May 16, 2020 at 8:57 pm |

    Michael-Spencer sent an email, which is posted on their website, at the end of March. It announced that, due to coronavirus, they would be suspending operations effective April 1. Also, when they resumed, they would be using a different factory. I wonder if: 1) they knew something already; 2) they were just fortunate to find another factory before Garland went down; 3) defections of customers like M-S helped push Brooks to close it.

  17. Brooks Brothers is reaching the end of its biz lifecycle. Dare I say RL too? Think Sears, JC Penny’s. They had their runs.

  18. Darian Bradford | May 16, 2020 at 11:56 pm |

    Roger Sack:
    Maybe the very reason that Cable Car Clothiers is able to stay in business is that they continue to provide discerning customers with “dull” 1958 Ivy clothing.

  19. Uncle Ralph’s company has over 3 billion in cash and owns the future. RL will be standing until the earth implodes and maybe after that too.

  20. @Darian Bradford and Roger Sack.

    Perhaps the 2030 prices at Cable Car are actually the prices you need to charge in 2020 if you’re going to try and render a profit selling domestically made products today.

  21. Ratio Shirts emailed their customers in mid-April advising that shirt production was temporarily on hold at “our factory’s location in New Jersey, near New York City”. I recall another comment from Ratio earlier this year (which I can’t find at the moment) where they mentioned that their shirt manufacturer partner had been in business nearly 60 years. That sounds like Ratio have now shifted their manufacture from Garland to perhaps Individualized Shirts in New Jersey.

  22. Hardbopper | May 17, 2020 at 7:55 am |

    I don’t know the history, but I imagine that when that factory was built, cotton was king in NC. Cotton and terbacci. And I imagine it was quite busy during WW II, the wars Korea, and Viet Nam. Anyone know the history?

  23. Ratio has moved their production to NJ, most likely Individualized. Michael Spencer has done the same, but I am not sure where. J Press did use Garland but they also used New England Shirt Company in Massachusetts. I believe they all began looking for a new source once Brooks began closing the third party accounts at their domestic factories. I am sad for the workers in NC, but fortunately there are still a few American shirt makers that could step in and make a worthy OCBD for those that want them.

  24. Charlottesville | May 17, 2020 at 11:19 am |

    Thank you, NaturalShoulder, MacMcConnell, Martin, ZIP and others for at least some good news on the future of American shirtmaking. At this point, I probably have enough tweed, flannel, seersucker, worsted, etc. to last me the rest of my life so long as a plague of moths doesn’t strike. Same with shoes and ties. Lots of shirts as well, but they along with socks, pajamas, and underwear do not last as long as the the tailored items and so I will continue to require a source for replacements.

    Anonymous – Your experience, moving from the old Jos. A. Bank (and L.L. Bean), to Brooks, to Press, very much mirrors my own moves from my 20s until roughly the late 1990s, and I have mainly stayed with Press ever since.

  25. At times, Dan River in Danville VA provided fabrics for BB.
    BB was at the forefront of blended fabrics in the early 50’s.

  26. This is really sad but unsurprising give the trends even before Corona. Lucky for me I have a bunch in the rotation and a dozen or so still in wrappers from the good-old-fairly-recent days when they were about $50 apiece if you bought 4 after Christmas. Even better, two of them are pink. I will be extra careful with them now.

  27. While I don’t disagree with many of the comments here bemoaning the evolution of Brooks Bros. over the past few decades, I have been enjoying their Original Polo Button-Down Oxfords that they began producing a couple of years back ($140; improved collar; no pocket). I assume these will go the way of the Garland Factory. I have about a dozen of them and serendipitously bought a handful of white ones on sale a few weeks ago to store for the future.

    I think we need to recognize though, that we really aren’t Brooks’ target customer any longer, and haven’t been for a long time. That they have continued to cater to our exacting requirements at all (albeit on the margins) is where the real surprise is (to me anyway). They’re running a business and we don’t represent a meaningful market for them. So while I disagree with Over Easy that this is a “predicament that Brooks has put itself in”, I wholeheartedly agree with him that it is incumbent upon us all to patronize those who still purvey the goods we value so that we continue to have sources.

    Anonymous, I share your DC experience. I progressed from my very traditional college shop to the DC JAB (talk about the decline of an American haberdasher), then to Brooks, and finally to Press. Additionally, I’ve had very good experiences ordering from O’Connell’s, and for certain items I buy from Cable Car too, with great results.

  28. whiskeydent | May 17, 2020 at 5:14 pm |

    Coupling this with the Southwick closure, I wonder if BB is shedding overhead to make its bottom line look better to a potential buyer.

  29. We men on this site are not Brooks’ target customers any longer. That is the point, as many have written above. However, there might not be enough of us to sustain an entire company these days. The Ebay guy whom someone above mentioned, smsmith007, has many shirts from the Garland outlet and will for a while. They have the tag marked through but that does not mean they are imperfections, as they did that only to prohibit returns to the store. Have bought four recently. Check him out. Want to help him b/c he was gracious to me in a return once. Let’s pray someone with money steps in to save this Garland factory, not as much for those of us who love button-downs but for that little town. As this shirt is pretty much the only thing which Brooks makes in a traditional fit these days, they were already mostly dead to me. Can’t wear their suits or separates any longer. I well recall when they had only red tag shirts and blue tag slim fit. Now they enough fits to confuse a tech happy teenager. Only a Lazarus-worthy turnaround can save them now. Also, regarding globalism or capitalism or whatever it was called above, the labor unions in the U. S. have in some ways done this to themselves. My late father was a very proud Teamster, so I write that with a little guilt, but it is true. I pray one aspect of Corona is an abandoning of China products and a resurgence of U. S. manufacturing plants, but this instance we discuss is not promising. Although, one thing. That person in China making 13 cents an hour might not have any income at all otherwise. Many things are relative.

  30. There are 3 options in NJ: 2 Gamberts (Mel, Skip) and individualized. Gitman in PA. I think there are shirt manufacturers in TN and Texas, as well.

    J. Press is using Mel Gambert

  31. Lockdown Skeptic | May 18, 2020 at 8:40 am |

    Stay free, end the lockdown, save our businesses and the economy!

  32. smsmith007 | May 19, 2020 at 7:05 am |

    “The Ebay guy whom someone above mentioned, smsmith007, has many shirts from the Garland outlet and will for a while. They have the tag marked through but that does not mean they are imperfections, as they did that only to prohibit returns to the store. Have bought four recently. Check him out.”

  33. smsmith007 | May 19, 2020 at 7:38 am |

    I don’t have any inside information but I do have some thoughts. I had heard a lot of different rumors about a reshuffling of the deck for Brooks Brothers US manufacturing. At this point I am not convinced that it is over for the Garland Shirt Company.

    I don’t think the plant will be shuttered. If so, there is zero value to BB, an old factory building set on a lot with no real estate value in eastern NC. Nobody wants it. There are broken down vacant sewing plants all over this part of North Carolina. Machines sold for scrap, no value really.

    I am guessing that this is either some sort of negotiating gambit or that we will see a buyer emerge for the plant. Liquidating it gives no return to BB. But what is in place there is an experienced workforce and what seems to me to be talented management. Also important is the fact that BB manufactures more third party shirts (Brands other than BB) than most people realize. J. Press was mentioned by another poster as an example. Those oontracts and that manufacturing capacity has value.

    If BB actually doesn’t want to own the Garland factory I could see a buyer coming in and taking it over. It is probably possible to streamline the operation, reshuffle the deck and start with a clean slate and build a profitable operation there. New ownership could renew the third party contracts and would probably be able to take Brooks Brothers as a third party customer. I would lose complete faith in BB if they decide that not having a made in USA Brooks Brothers OCBD available. Who better to make it than the Garland Shirt Company?

    TLDR: I wouldn’t count this as a done deal yet.

    So what does that add up to? The factory has more value as a going concern.

  34. I have so many opinions..
    TAL the asian manufacturing partner of Brooks bought a piece of Garland. Modernized machinery and removed what ever soul was left in the garment…i expect to be able to buy some of their Albini fabric for very little money.

    One of the 2 Gambert factories will not reopen.
    If you want to buy made in the USA shirts it will just get harder. The companies that want to make shirts in the USA. Have even fewer options. The Gitman brothers (shelly and Al) would not recognize the garment coming out of Ashland,PA.. it is not pretty out there right now for domestically made garments. There are several factories that can make decent sport shirts. Fewer can make a real dress shirt.

  35. PocketSquare | May 26, 2020 at 12:08 pm |

    Cegoguy, I Would be curious to hear your opinion on what makes a Gitman shirt subpar. I am currently wearing one now and must own over 25. I am 35 and the company is over 75 years old so I can’t relate to what the the old days must have been like. The shop i work at has carried Gitman for decades, and aside from guff about the prices continuing to increase i have never heard anyone make negative comments about their quality. I am interested in your feedback.

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