Friday Rant: Brooks Brothers — Made in America…But Mostly in China

As my family members and close friends know, one of my favorite iconic stores that has now served multiple generations of hard-working (and in some cases not so hard working) East Coast preppies and business folk is Brooks Brothers. While the store undoubtedly represents a unique American white collar "work hard, play hard" sartorial business type -- after all, who needs Saville Row suits that can make fat European cats look thin when fit US workers can look just as trim in the relaxed Brooks 3 button "sack" or draped jacket if they can find an hour in the day for a squash game or jog -- the brand has also come to represent a truly hypocritical trend in retail marketing. To wit, some organizations like Brooks Brothers are capitalizing on how they're creating -- or sustaining -- manufacturing jobs in America. Yet their true revenue and margin makers are coming from: you guessed it, China.

Let me relate a personal story on this front. For the holidays, my mother, as she often does, gave me a Brooks Brothers gift card. With it, I went to my local Brooks Brothers store on Michigan Avenue. As I walked in, I saw precisely what I was looking for -- wool and cashmere sweaters. Yet upon closer inspection, I saw the production labels had changed this year to China (from the US, Hong Kong -- or worse), even for a number of items costing $125 or more. A couple years back, I made the personal decision that for my work wardrobe, I would rather have fewer items in my closet that were made in the West than a plethora of items coming from low cost countries. So this change even for certain higher end items, especially given the theme of some recent Brooks Brothers advertising, took me by surprise. Even their swanky high-end "Black Fleece" stuff now, in part, comes from China.

When I spoke to a salesperson asking where in the store I could find a sweater that was not manufactured in China, I was directed to a much smaller section off to the side. Yet gone were the not-made-in-China sweaters I used to buy for $100 or so, and in came the $250+ sweaters from Scotland which were marketed with a more distinctive provenance than before (so much for an American brand, I suppose). Eventually, I did settle on a single item that was on sale (and still astronomically expensive). But at least in doing so, I was not contributing to our trade deficit with one country in particular.

Although the trip may have been a personal and sartorial victory, in the end having spent 45 minutes trying to identify a sweater that would do the trick not just based on its durability or looks, but also where it was manufactured, was pyrrhic, at best. After all, when one's favored brand embarks on a "Made in America" marketing campaign that long-term customers can stand behind, but then upon entering a store it becomes clear that a majority of the volume flowing the cash registers (on a SKU basis) is coming from China, well, it's a sad day, especially considering that even in recent years similar high-end items at Brooks Brothers came from other countries.

- Jason Busch

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Voices (9)

  1. David Mitchell:

    I am guessing you all vote for Trump as well?

    1. Jim:

      I can’t speak for them, but I will vote for Trump, just as I voted for Ross Perot. Trade should be fair for all. Trade with China and many other countries has never been fair for the US and other Western countries. The result of this so called “free trade” has been shoddy and sometimes very dangerous products, the loss of millions of American jobs, a huge increase in government assistance programs and drug and alcohol addictions for Americans, and a great transfer of trillions of dollars of wealth to a country we have been at war with since we rescued them from the hands of the Japanese during World War 2. I guess this must be their way of saying “thank you” in Chinese.

    2. daffyd:

      No, I will not vote for Trump. My vote will go to a person with more depth of knowledge and focus on reality. That being said, I also try to not buy anything made in China (specialty items for Chinese food may be an exception). It is a complex decision based on human rights, environmental issues and international politics

  2. Nick @ Market Dojo:

    I remember a number of years ago when I was in Thailand, I saw a fake Polo t-shirt with ‘Made in the USA’ on the inside label. I actually owned a real Polo t-shirt of the same design and lo-and-behold in the genuine one was ‘Made in Thailand’! Amazing….

  3. Mark:

    Yes, I agree with trying not to buy too many items manufactured in other countries. I would rather buy from local manufacturers, and I agree that Brooks Brothers asking for the same prices for items made in China is a disgrace…they should be ashamed. It will be difficult to sway Americans away from buying cheap imported goods though, the dollar does not stretch as far as it used to.

  4. John L Gropper:

    We are 100% behind the “not from China” movement.
    They poisened our dog with chemicals on chicken jerky.
    She survived but many did not.
    Not one dime from us ever again.

  5. Sharon Knettell:


    I refuse to buy any clothing from China. The poaching of elephants is due their increased wealth- mostly our money. 25,000 elephants were killed for their tusks to make Chinese aphrodisiacs. The Black Rhino has been declared extinct for that reason.

    I had the same experience in Brooks Brothers- my husband was having some suits made and they gave me a coupon for 40% off on an item.

    I went down to grab a sweater or a handbag most of their stuff was made in China. I squawked and told them I would not buy anything from China, The manager told me that they were getting a lot of complaints vis-a-vis ‘made in China’ and they were rethinking where they had there merchandise made.

  6. Gary james:

    Absolutely 100% spot on sir . In the last year or two I,ve made a conscious decision myself not to buy anything I wear that’s made in china . Damn near impossible to avoid for most things but clothes are different ,there is a choice .
    I recently returned an acne sweater thats a Swedish brand but was made in china ,was just about to purchase a brooks brother sweater and that’s the same so I won’t be buying that either . To think a quintessential brand like brooks brothers is getting their gear made in china and still charging plenty of bucks is a disgrace .
    I,ll ve avoiding them in future and once I pass the word on my friends will hopefully avoid them as well ,no need for it.

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