Brooks Brothers : The Rise & Fall of An American Icon

How did Brooks Brothers, the oldest American clothing retailer lose its way?

Brooks Brothers, the oldest clothing retailer in the United States (founded in Manhattan in 1818), filed for bankruptcy protection in July of 2020. 

After 200 years of outfitting the elite, including the likes of nearly every United States President (41 out of 46 to be exact), the Brooks Brothers brand was acquired through a partnership of Simon Property Group and Authentic Brands for just over $300 million dollars. 

COVID has had a tremendously negative impact on many retail branches, with Brooks Brothers not being alone, brands such as J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, and others following suit.

Today, 125 out of the original 200+ stores will remain open. Ken Ohashi, formerly of Arthur Anderson, Aeropostale, and the Authentic Brands Group, emerged as the new CEO after the transaction was finalized.

Today, Brooks Brothers finds itself at a crossroads; with the failing of the brand’s core product due to overexpansion and an influx of lower quality products, its main claim to fame has been its machine-washable, non-iron shirt, often sold in a bundle of three-for-$150. 

In the time leading up to its bankruptcy, all remaining US factories (in Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina, respectively) were shut down after, for a time, converting operations to manufacture PPP equipment. 

Brooks Brothers is no longer able to keep its famous claim of being “Made in America.” 

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Claudio Del Vecchi, the owner of Brooks Brothers at the time, said that “I feel very bad about this.” Still, he added, “These factories never made money for us, and at this moment, all resources need to be maintained and saved to make sure we can come out on the other side of this crisis” (NYT). 

While some saw this move as a blow to the brand image, Del Vecchio said, “Brooks Brothers was born in the mind of the family not to make products in America but to import the best products from around the world, so I don’t think we are going away from the original mission” (NYT).

Original Brooks Brothers
Original Brooks Brothers Store

Undoubtedly, the brand, known primarily for its “Ready Made Suits,” is in need of innovation after most people around the world have not worn a suit in months. Will consumers rush out to the stores to buy new suits? 

Work from home for many “white-collar” workers, combined with a lack of formal events, is upending the formal wear supply chain. 

But, Brooks Brothers has a storied brand that over time has come to equate to one of the “titans of prep.” Now, with the backing of a deep-pocketed company with a track record for saving Barney’s and millions of empty store space to fill, the future could be bright? 

Will the new blood, a new design team, and a rebrand of sportswear return the brand to its former glory?

Written by Jack Argiro & Edited by Alexander Fleiss