The sun is setting on the Golden Fleece, as least as far as domestic manufacturing goes.
Recently Brooks Brothers announced it will close its Garland, NC shirt factory. Now an anonymous source has revealed that the company will close its other two American factories, the Southwick tailored clothing factory in Haverhill, MA, and the New York City necktie factory located in Long Island City in the borough of Queens.
The source, informed by several parties part of a corporate conference call last week, told Ivy Style, “Brooks Brothers is closing all three of their domestic factories by the end of July. Southwick and Long Island City are still being negotiated with the unions. Garland is a non-union factory. That’s why the closure can be announced first. The plan is to close them all at this point unless something drastic happens.”
The Boston Business Journal reported yesterday on talk of the Southwick factory closing. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Very, very sad.
I was called by an employee who stills works there with the news last night. I worked for the Haverhill tailored clothing factory for 42 years, and it is sad to see it close. When I started the original founder of Grieco Bros, Nicholas Grieco, was in his last year. His son Richard took over as president. Richard kept a picture of his father with JFK on his desk. In the beginning retailers would beg to get exclusive rights to the Southwick label in an area. The factory moved from Canal Street in Lawrence to a larger factory that once housed the largest shoe factory in the world on Island Street in Lawrence in the early 80’s, and expanded from 595 employees to over 1000 after the move. Financial problems led to the sale of the company to Bob Bayer in 2003, and he sold it to Brooks Brothers in 2008. The factory moved to Computer Drive in Haverhill the next year; and again to the larger , more modern building that was a closed Lowe’s across the street in Haverhill. I have a lot of good memories, and today is a sad day. Many of the stores featured on this website were customers of Southwick, and I am sure they share my sadness.
Throughout the past three decades, I’ve bought dozens of Southwick suits and jackets. The Cambridge model (appeared about 8/9 years ago) was a great surprise, my favorite model was the CM1J. It was the closest approximation to old J. Press I’ve yet come across, and I am including MTM suits and jackets from Samuelsohn, H. Freeman, Adrian Jules, and Greenfield.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The story of 20th century Ivy is really the story of Grieco Bros./Southwick —With due respect paid to the retailers, including J. Press, who used a diversity of manufacturers. It’s a safe guess Norman Hilton based his Hampton model on a Southwick/Grieco Bros. design, and so many great shops (like The Andover Shop) relied almost entirely on them.
Is the end of Southwick… or is it for sale?
All three closures are still “maybes” at this point. As I mentioned in the Garland post, my speculation is that this is a negotiating tactic to get concessions from creditors and/or the labor unions.
Maybe they are consolidating in some other/newer location?
No inside knowledge, but I predict a year from now there will still be at least some US-made BB items.
Consolidation seems possible. It would also seem very bizarre to eliminate domestic manufacturing at the exact point when, due to supply chain disruptions, having the capacity to make things in-country would seem to become a significant advantage beyond its mere heritage marketing appeal. FT ran an article today about closures of garment factories in faraway places, such as Bangladesh, where government bailouts are not an option.
Sounds like a streamlining to make a sale more attractive. Prospective buyers aren’t thinking “Wow, Brooks Brothers!”, they’re thinking “potential profit center in the (whatever) industry”. Could be BB, could be computer peripherals, could be tires, it’s all about the numbers.
I would not shovel dirt on BB yet. There is value there after streamlining.
Does this mean their stuff will now be affordable?
Is there anyone amongst us who knows the rag trade well enough to tell whether it could make financial sense to buy the Southwick operation and keep it running? With sales direct to public, perhaps via local independent menswear shops, and perhaps on contract to operations like Mercer, Michael Spencer, J. Press, perhaps even the Brethren, and so on?
I may be a dreamer, and I may be wrong. But there is demand for their products, and it would be a terrible shame to lose their skills, knowledge and infrastructure.
Thanks for your thoughts on this.
@NCJack: I totally agree. As Long as the Company will be bought or held by people with no particular understanding, experience and taste of the Business as well as BB’s past, it will be run like a whatsoever company. They should stop to ask so called Financial and Marketing experts and hire people who are real entrepreneurs with a heart and Deep Feeling for the Business they run.
It’s really strange they’re closing the tie factory. I understand that there aren’t too many people out there, willing to pay $140 for an ocbd (although, their US-made OCBD’s have been on sale pretty regularly over the past few months), and, considering how many new MTM tailors there are nowadays, offering quality stuff at reasonable prices, it’s no surprise the Southwick factory has been operating at a loss, but it’s always seemed that their (quite “affordable”) ties are selling well. I particularly like their Red Fleece ties that are slimmer, shorter, have thinner interlining, and are “self-tipped”. Often offered at under $50, they are truly unique on the market. But, I guess if their ties will from now on be made in England or Italy, it’s nothing to be worried about, although, again, it doesn’t make much sense. There are some pretty good tie-companies, making their products right here, in the US: Vineyard Vines (styles are horrible in my opinion, but the quality is very good); Mountain and Sacket make wonderful ties in a small factory in NYC, and offer them at remarkably low prices. There probably are others.
As others say above, very sad but not unexpected. Southwick has been a mainstay of the OTR and MTM business for traditional men’s stores like Eljo’s here in my town for many decades. Along with Sero and Gant shirts, Southwick dressed generations of Virginia men.
Garland produced Made in USA shirts with imported cotton. Similar model with all the other factories, and that is probably the best model going unless you have a cotton farm in NC, or raise sheep, etc. I still believe the niche market paradigm could be profitable.
“Silence of the Lambs…” My vote for best post headline of the year!
So it seems that the COVID states’ lock downs have given BB an excuse (reason) to jettison these plants and bust a union.
A point I was about to make. At one time there wasn’t many states in the Union one couldn’t purchase a Southwick jacket. Almost every city or college town had their Ivy / Trad men’s shop that sold the iconic brands. In a way that’s what we older guys have in common with the style.
I’ve worn Southwick (almost exclusively) since I began my professional career. They were durable & quality products.
Shame on the ownership of Brooks Brothers, I hold them responsible.
Roughly 700 mfg jobs in rural areas are gone.
If they wanted to save money, why couldn’t they have shuttered some of their outlets & poorly placed mall locations- no one would have noticed or cared….
HSM, HF, H. Freeman, and Oxxford are all owned by licensing companies now. Oxxford is down to less than 25% of prior production. Tailored Brands did hold on to the Mass suit factory when they sold Joseph Abboud to license back in Jan. That factory produces 300,000 suits a year with a capacity of 400,000.
If you make suits in the US you have to pay a tariff on the fabric. That is why Peerless, Empire, and Cohen do well in Canada.
Having headed to law school in 1965 with one new charcoal gray 3-piece Southwick suit, that lasted for at least the first 20 years of practice, this is indeed sad news. Over the years I have accumulated a good collection of Douglas model suits and sport coats, the most recent at the beginning of this year thanks to O’Connell’s. My sole consolation is being so old, my current wardrobe will outlive me.
I know nothing of the economics of the clothing industry and this is wishful thinking, but it would be great it the independents, such as O’Connell’s, H. Stockton, Cable Car Clothiers, and the others who sell Southwick could band together and acquire Southwick.
After 12 years and 2,200 posts, this one smashed all traffic records within a few hours. Evidently bad news travels fast.
Sorry, but that’s a sheep, not a lamb:
Everyone on this blog is super negative about this announcement.
Maybe this will turn out to be really great for BB customers.
As much as I’d like to see domestic manufacturing thrive, I’d rather see BB survive even they need to move manufacturing to a low-cost region.
You probably drive a nice German car, use an iPhone manufactured in China.
Oh the horror – now your BB clothing might be manufactured in Vietnam.
I’m going to assume that BB will produce higher-quality clothing at lower cost overseas.
Yeah, your probably right. Everything made in China/Vietnam is the best.
Manufacturing facilities under the Golden Fleece flock are technically known as lambs.
Thanks for enlightening me.
It depends on what model German car one owns on whether it was not assembled in the USA.
By getting rid of these assets, BB appears to be looking for a buyer that wants what it has become instead of one that wants to make it what it once was.
I bought BB ties in the 70’s and recently. There is no comparison. Today’s BB ties are not close to the quality of the ones I bought back then. Barney’s is gone, Lord and Taylor about to be. It’s a different world folks.
I agree with whiskeydent: shutting down US operations will only alienate further what used to be their core customer base (basically us and other like-minded fellas) but only compound their current problems. Following this approach they’ll end up as the rich man’s Jos A Bank or MWH, with all due respect for those. Actually as painful as it can be to state, for such items as the new staples of BB like non-iron shirts, JAB’s are very close and much better value for money. I have no objection in principle to items made in the Far East – I try to judge them by their quality, not their provenance. However I find it ludicrous to be asked to pay for them as if they were made in the US or Europe – which is what BB does.
The one closing that really astonishes me is the tie factory in NY: as remarked by others, these are the BB items that come closest to the heyday’s in terms of quality (though not on par) and still good bang for the buck.
Mala tempora currunt- really!
In 1850, Daniel, John, Elisha and Edward Brooks assumed leadership of their father’s establishment, H. & D. H. Brooks & Co. Formally changing the name of the company to Brooks Brothers, they adopted the Golden Fleece symbol as the company’s trademark. The logo, a sheep suspended in a ribbon, has served as a symbol of fine wool since the fifteenth century, when Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy—an area renowned for its woolen fabrics—founded the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1430 as an enduring gift for his wife, Isabella of Portugal. At the time, it became one of the most prestigious orders in all of Europe.
Who makes Jack Carlson’s jackets and blazers? Made in the USA, but reasonably priced.
Agree with all of you that I’d much rather buy Brooks Brothers MADE IN AMERICA clothing – but those days are likely history.
@whiskeydent – a buyer will acquire BB for a variety of reasons including what it was yesterday, what it is today and what it could become tomorrow.
@Fabrizio – I don’t understand your logic on paying less because the product is made overseas. You probably didn’t expect a discount on your Mercedes Benz which is made in Germany, or that Hermes tie which was made in France.
@Everyone – Don’t be surprised when an Asian firm acquires BB out of bankruptcy.
@SE Rowing blazers doesn’t make jackets, they sell samples, zero canvas, all fused, bizarre. An acquaintance at one of the small NY mtm guys knows the maker and they are not tailors, they make samples for the bigger houses, but they don’t make real jackets
I hate to see more domestic apparel manufacturing being shut down, but remember that BB is owned by an outstanding Italian family. They bought the company from Marks&Spencer who had almost destroyed the brand. Thanks to Claudio DelVechhio, they restored the brand and in my opinion, have made it more relevant and stronger than ever. While not inexpensive, BB offers the best value (cost vs quality) in men’s apparel today. Italy still has many outstanding men’s apparel manufacturers in tailored clothing, woven shirts, and neckwear. And many of the best fabric mills in the world are still in Italy. As the DelVechhio family has a strong history of manufacturing in Italy with its hugely successful eyewear business, I’m sure they will attend carefully to the manufacturing of BB product.
I believe in Ivy. I have since I was a freshman in high school and I will continue to carry it with me where ever I go.
@DMT: I hope you are going to end up as the right one and that BB will actually sort this out and even improve. However I am afraid that while saving the brand the Del Vecchio ownership has also diluted its style so much it is no longer the icon many looked up to. So many of it items are now indistinguishable from many other retailers’ – and while going there they seem to have lost the true American style of the 3-button sack, the full cut shirt, the high-rise pants etc. As an Italian myself, if I want European slim style I’ll go for the original- not a foreign knockoff however well built it may be (and also on this we hear that quality hasn’t held up with the golden days’ BB). I guess that may be even truer for many others.
@Bill: sorry I didn’t make my point clearly enough. I am not stating that foreign products must cost less, but that their prices must reflect somehow their embedded costs. So I am not surprised nor do I find it unfair that high prices should be charged for items that use high-quality materials and especially include high labour costs because operators are paid good wages, have social security, health care etc. – the Mercedes and Hermes products of your example. However I object to paying the same for items produced in low-cost countries: there is limit of decency to corporate greed. Does a retailer want to sell me items they have paid so little for? Then I want my own share of the bargain too. Which is what I get at the likes of LL Bean, JaB et al.
Otherwise- all things being equal- if I choose high quality and am ready to pay top dollars for it, I’ll go and buy those items from those who don’t outsource so extremely- which is exactly where I go for the American style items I love, i.e. J Press and O’ Connell’s who will sell me true American-style items manufactured in the US or Canada or the UK.
If true, this seems to be disappointing primarily for the workers and for some abstract sense of “it is good to have Brooks Brothers’ spirit on life support.” I get both of those things and share the sentiments.
That said, I’d be curious to know the stats on BB purchases and Made in USA (particularly OCBD) purchases by the readers of this blog in the last 24 months. I like BBs shirts, but as many have noted, a certain eBay seller has provided far better value for as often as I need to buy shirts. (Need? Never. For future stock? Yes. They sit in their packaging until the shirts in that color get too frayed for work and are relegated to the weekend.)
The fact is there is little reason to go to Brooks Brothers beyond the shirts. The Brethren’s shirts are little more than the hot wings at Hooters: something good in a place where I wouldn’t be caught dead.
If I want to spend my money rather than snag eBay deals, I’ll go to J.Press or another retailer whose overall product and company values I can support- or at least accept.
There’s no doubt they can buy the image of the past, but it will be hard to replicate the reality without the factories’ skilled workforce. And it’s that reality that matters to trads.
The dye was cast when the succession of BB buyers took on huge amounts of debt, forcing them to rapidly expand into the malls and dilute the Ivy style to appeal to a broader audience. It seems that debt, more often than not, is the poison that eventually kills major retail operations.
I worked at BB for almost a decade and was there for the acquisition by RBA/Claudio Del Vecchio. While I am devastated to hear the news of the closing of the factories, it is not without precedent. BB shuttered its Patterson Nj shirt factory and moved it to Garland. BB had NO suit making in-house capability before the acquisition of Southwick. Everything was farmed out to manufacturers. The 80’s saw the migration of knitwear from the US, England and Scotland to Hong Kong, India, China, etc.. BB under Del Vecchio moved a lot of silk production for ties and shoe production from the UK to Italy. Del Vecchio did not need those US factories but kept them out of nostalgia and a bit of brand-polishing. Now that he’s getting ready to sell, he knows the new owners will not want the headaches of running multiple factories. Trust me, it’s complicated. The reality is, most people don’t care where their clothes are made anymore. Having spent many hours in the LIC tie factory, it is very sad indeed.
@Former BB Employee – good insights – thanks for sharing. That’s a good point about new owners and not having to manage multiple factories – this will raise the sales value because it simplifies operations. As you mentioned, BB is a complicated business with design, manufacturing, online and retail operations. It’s surprising that Del Vecchio waited this long to outsource manufacturing. BB may perform better if they can narrow their focus by outsourcing manufacturing and concentrating on design, retail, marketing and selling online.
Their made in US sales were non existent. People complain they’re leaving America yet nobody bought their stuff. It makes sense from a business standpoint to close them if they’re not making money from it.
It’s a shame the execs don’t see the big picture of people not wanting to spend $120 on a shirt.
No reason for sadness. More than enough terrific southwick available on the second hand market. So well made they live forever.
BB has never been about creating inexpensive men’s apparel. If you’re primarily concerned about price, shop at Jos Banks or similar. When your goal is to offer classic men’s clothing and superb quality fabrics and construction, you can’t offer $65 shirts and $350 suits. The majority of men don’t know the difference between single needle construction and twin needle construction or serging or stitches per inch. Or the difference between a fused suit jacket and a full canvas suit jacket. The difference is quality which is attained through the superior skills required by the sewer/tailor and the additional operations necessary to achieve the finished garment. And of course using shirting fabrics from mills like Albini, Thomas Mason, or Alumo and clothing mills such as Zegna, Lori Piana, or Barberis. But when you own a suit or sport coat for many, many years and it still looks great and fits great, I’d be willing to bet it was made of quality fabric and excellent construction.
Sorry for rambling on, but I have always been passionate about and appreciate quality. Perhaps I can sum up my feelings about BB this way – instead of comparing BB to Jos Banks or J Press compare them to Canali or Ermenegildo Zegna.
Seems to me too many people expect quality goods to sell for a pittance. Doesn’t work that way.
No, just a reasonable, realistic price.
I think a few things could be mentioned from above
-Paying $140 for an all cotton shirt made in North Carolina is not the same as paying $140 for an all cotton, doused in alleged carcinogen shirt, sure to fray soon, made in Malaysia. So, why does that substandard crap cost as much? Having said that, the workers in Malaysia certainly need the money
-The Mercedes comparison is not valid b/c if they were made in USA under UMW constraints they’d likely cost more than if made in Germany
-Brooks really does not care about us on this page. They care about the Milano fit generation. They no longer make traditional fit pants or jackets, and the shirts they make in traditional are now called relaxed fit. The wars are won over the battles for the terms. They clearly want to phase out that size altogether. Saves cotton and the further marginalization of boomers is negligible to them.
-Find a way to stock up on what you like. I have several BB shirts still in the bag and have bought 3 on ebay in the last week. Two are old-new and one is new-old. But we can continue to shop at Mercer, Spencer, etc. for true American owned and manufactured garments.
-Having written all that the owner wants to save his company or make it more attractive for sale. And that was the reason the Brooks family sold it in the first place, I imagine. Sad day, for America though.
-But what great American brand is still run by the founders? Hickey-Freeman? No. Budweiser? No. Jeep? No. They younger generations care not about great grandad’s dream and just want to cash out. Somewhat recently I met with a CEO of a major U. S. equipment manufacturer. He listed all the former great brands which his company now owns and makes. My washer repair man told me how to look at the serial number and tell if a washer was actually made by Whirlpool or only had that name stuck on it.
There obviously are wonderful exceptions.
This is a review on the BB website of a made-in-USA OCBD. You can see what the store is up against in trying to sell these traditional items. LOL.
The fabric for the collar is too long for where the buttons are. No matter now you iron the collar, it wrinkles when you button it. Buy a different shirt.”
@JDV: fully subscribe to all words of yours.
On the point of national vs foreign ownership: sad as it may be that national treasures no longer belong to their founders’ families (and tell me: almost all Italian designers are part of French conglomerates!), it does not have to be bad by definition. If the new owner respects the culture and history of what they have bought – so if they want to bring value to it rather than quickly restructure and then cash out- it will be a success for both. The casebook example is the Japanese owners of J Press.
I did not mean to criticize all foreign ownership, only to highlight that hardly any great brand is still owned by the founding family, whether sold domestically or offshore. And some families might have sold the brand in hopes of selling it. But when the famed Hathaway shirt label is now owned by Costco, that is unfortunate. The Hart-Marx products sold by Dillards surely do not compare with those hanging in my 87 year old father’s closet when he died 5 years ago. I also am wary of much of our country’s manufacturing capital being owned by foreigners, as I feel that dangerous to national security, but did not mean to swipe a broad brush that it is all bad. And companies owned offshore, which set up U. S. plants, such as Honda in Marysville, Ohio, or, I believe it is Toyota or maybe Nissan in Tennessee, the many others, one in South Carolina, Volvo in my native Virginia, is encouraging. Although, one or more of those might have closed w/out my knowledge. Once saw a very creative commercial about exports, “Honda Accord, the best-selling American made car in Japan.”
It wouldn’t be a horrible thing for Ralph Lauren to buy it and have a hand at the Real Thing, his own work up to now already having been to do much of what people don’t like about current Brooks. The “lifestyle” side of it is done better by him than the current ownership if you like that sort of thing, and the generic country club aspect of it as well. Better he than just beancounters. But it needs a total overhaul. And a ‘halo,’ like the Ford GT — 1930s/ old esquire level kit and quality to go head to head with Italy and all the Rake crap but done in an American style influenced by English and the best European and other (in a very broad sense) preppy elements. And then the regular line aligned with the halo. Not everyone wants a Ferrari or Brioni, a McLaren or Savile Row with money to spend. Do this rather than fashion designer nonsense. Give it an actually upscale element rather than a mere memory of it mostly surviving on a label.