What happens when an American icon ceases to produce in the USA? At least in the case of Brooks Brothers, which has recently announced plans to shutter all three of their U.S. factories, it will mean 695 layoffs and the end of an era for the over 200 year-old clothing company.
News trickled in over the course of last week that all of Brooks Brothers’ American plants were closing. These three locations, located in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and New York all received notices that their employees would be let go by mid-late summer of this year.
These WARN notices were delivered in order to give the company’s employees an opportunity to prepare themselves for loss of work, but many of these notices came with a big asterisk:
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.
Some people took this with a bigger grain of salt than others. Mayor of Garland, North Carolina Winifred Hill Murphy told the Raleigh News & Observer that she wasn’t “blown away” by the bad news. The factory was the only one making the brand’s famous Oxford cloth button-down shirts left in the United States, but the company’s foothold had been slipping. Brooks Brothers had closed their famous outlet store in the town back in 2018.
James Fiorentini, mayor of Haverhill, Massachusetts, seemed to see a glimmer of hope in the BB disclaimer. Promising the city would do, “everything we can,” in an interview with the Boston Herald, Fiorentini was intent on keeping the Southwick manufacturing plant open for business. The factory has been open since 1929 and was an extension of an even older Brooks Brothers’ manufacturer. The retailer had been granted tax cuts in order to encourage them to stay in the Massachusetts town, so the prospect of their inevitably moving these jobs overseas was difficult for Mayor Fiorentini to hear.
These same “unforeseeable circumstances prompted by COVID-19” are being cited in the closure of the Long Island City factory as well, which will close its doors on August 18th. But as with all the closures of the covid-era, these changes were a long time coming.
A Bloomberg report on April 30, revealed that Brooks Brothers had been attempting to sell itself for some time, according to sources that remain nameless. The private sale needed to be extended, because no buyer came to the fore and depending on the number of stores, this as-yet unfound buyer could have the transaction folded into bankruptcy proceedings.
Brooks Brothers has refrained from making a statement and says that the company, “consistently explores various strategic options to position the company for growth and success.” But it appears the added pressures of this unsuccessful sale, the stresses of COVID-19 shutdowns, and the company’s $600 million debt burden have coalesced in the closures of this storied American retailer’s last domestic manufacturing endeavors.
Brooks Brothers had recently proclaimed their facilities’ mask and gown-making abilities in their three American facilities and seemed to be proof positive that domestic manufacturing could sustain companies, even in trying times. However; that was not the case. It is very likely we will hear more news soon about Brooks Brothers and doubtful that it will be good.