Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Lifecycle of Preppy Companies

Chart Designed by Salt Water New England

Where to Look (And Not to Look) for Staples

Companies mentioned in the comment section so far (organized roughly from left to right on the chart):
Crucible to Precious
New Markets
  • Le Tricoteur <> 
Cash Grab to Company Shell
The broad characteristics of each stage are as follows (and all characteristics won't apply to all companies):

  • A company serves demanding clients in authentic environments significantly better then competitors.  
  • The company’s founder is hands on.
  • Products rapidly evolve, with dozens of failed prototypes.  The company typically does one thing very well. 
  • Marketing is not done.
  • Other people often love the products without necessarily recognizing the company that made it.
  • As any VC knows, companies here are highly unstable; they can change nearly instantly, from experiencing overnight rapid growth, to selling out, pivoting, or going away.
  • Not all start-ups begin in the crucible stage.  
  • Fiercely passionate customers, who are "in the know," are very loyal to the company.
  • The company has much higher prices than competitors, which fans are happy to pay.  Prices are fair and constant, and when a new variation on an older product is 20% more expensive, for example, the product will be worth 20% more.

Precious companies have much higher prices than competitors, which fans are happy to pay.  Marketing is poor, and not a priority.  Web sites may be disastrous.

  • Quality is paramount. 
  • Customers can still call or email and get the owner (and often work through any problems).
  • New, great products are added, seemingly effortlessly.  The company has an aesthetic certainty, neither derivative nor capricious.  
  • The company has widely recognized popular and unique items.
  • Great pride is taken in the company by employees, who go "beyond the call of duty" to make happy customers.
  • Items are expensive, but high quality.
  • New items, extensions of old, are added.
  • Companies gain increasing brand recognition well beyond passionate base.

Iconic companies worry about becoming trendy and stylish, something that cash grab companies are desperate to be. 

    • The company worries about becoming trendy and stylish.  They also fear complacency, bloat, and smugness, and don't want to be thought of as the category leader.  They sell great products, not a great brand.
    • A short term flattening of growth can cause panic.
    New Markets
    • The company is often under new management, typically with MBA and logistics-centric credentials. The company increases focuses on greatly improving contribution margins, often in association with new investment money.  
    • The new management begins to purge many of the old employees and suppliers/branded vendors that had contributed to the success of the company. 
    • Companies feel entitled to their traditional customers and markets. Companies in this stage are very interested in new categories of customers, and take the existing customer base for granted; many loyal customers find themselves buying less and less.
    • The new management experiments with "leveraging the look and the feel of the brand and brand experience" by tentatively lowering the quality and increasing the channels, supported by ramped up marketing, including social media.   Cheaper parts are swapped in wherever possible.
    • Marketing gets increasingly - often awkwardly - self-congratulatory.
    • The company makes big deals of changing the colors of successful products.  
    • Vendors open ancillary stores, for example, in this stage, which do not yet influence design decision making.  
    • No new great products are launched, despite expensive misfires.  Companies go after markets they don't understand.  From a marketing and design perspective, the company becomes derivative, dated, and piecemeal. 
    Cash Grab
    • There is a nearly impossible to resist opportunity for upper management to personally cash-in with a one-time windfall through a rapid market expansion with much lower quality goods at still high prices with very high margins, irrevocably sacrificing brand, long-term employees and partners, and traditional customers.  In other words, transforming nothing into a great company is somewhat profitable. Transforming a great company into nothing is highly profitable.
    • Companies believe success comes when they can best distract from, rather than highlight, what they are actually selling.  Many peddle aspirational vulgarity.
    • There is significant confusion from traditional customers.  Long time customers start to experience return-fatigue.
    • Some classics remain (but fewer and fewer).
    • There are wild fluctuations of prices (higher prices, then massive sales, with various coupons and sweepstakes).
    • New products are low quality and relatively expensive.  Companies design for 75% to 80% mark ups.
    • Ancillary stores grow in influence over the direction of the company. Outlet stores open. Companies here may invest in "big data" programs.  The culture embraces short cuts to short term success.
    • Companies increasingly outsource production to low-cost providers.
    • Companies are desperate to be stylish and trendy.
    • A cash grab company further increase their PR budget, first spent trying to differentiate the company from their past and pushing new, very-high-margin products, then relentlessly trying to invoke their heritage when the new products flop.  The term "iconic" is used.  A lot.  Companies become louder and more strident. 

    Company Shell
    • The company's new owners think they can market their way out of their dropping sales.
    • Companies' products are no longer significantly differentiated in the marketplace. Branding chugs along.  Companies here find themselves with new competitors and engage in a race-to-the-bottom in quality to shore up crumbling margins.
    • They shift, almost overnight from an external market perception, from relevant and interesting to irrelevant, tired, and over-exposed.  
    • Outlet stores and other bottom feeding strategies become highly influential in setting company strategies.  
    • Company shells use old black and white photographs that have no connection to the current organization.
    • They rely on good customer service to overcome quality problems, not to meet individual needs or repair but to efficiently replace or refund.  Guarantees become more restrictive.  Finally, customer service, typically the last point of pride and holdover from the once strong company, fades to squeeze out a few more dollars of profit.

    Some Comments by Company


    All photos by Salt Water New England
    The Lotuff tote is by far my favorite accessory. I often get compliments on its superior craftsmanship and outstanding beauty. (Comment) 
    Can't get enough of Lotuff's quality and craftsmanship. (Comment)
    My Lotuff English briefcase is the most beautiful bag I've ever owned. (Michael Rowe) 
    I have been using a zip-top Lotuff brief in Chestnut for almost a year, for daily work and commuting. I have found it to be immensely satisfying to use, and very functional. The leather is substantial. (BantamInChicago)


    A great value... Thread count and feel of the 100% cotton is the real deal. totally gotta iron, not a hint of no iron plastic. Something that only a true purist cares about is the collar roll on the OCBD.  Absolutely the best, IMO. Others have tried to take the shirt apart and copy the collar, but the roll that competitors come up with never approaches the perfect "bell shape" of the Mercer roll. (wf)
    I only have six or seven of them in my closet right now, but that's because they wear so well that I haven't needed to replace them. They make the nonpareil, archetypal, classic OCBD.  (Michael)
    Own some tattersalls. First rate shirts. Reminds me of vintage B2 with collar roll & full cut. Old school grownup shop. Definitely not for J Crew -AF hybrid metrosexuals. (Comment)
    I've been purchasing from Mercer for years and I don't believe the shirt has any competitors. The Mercer shirt is a completely different garment than (for example) anything on offer from Brooks. And I mean anything. The blogger Heavy Tweed Jacket did an in-depth analysis of Mercer vs. Brooks (for all you left brained folks) and the differences are substantial. Now, whether those differences are worth paying extra for is up to you. As for the full cut: I've noticed that they no longer include the slogan "Baggier Is Better" on the label of their shirts, but I hope that this is their only concession to current fashion. A bit of bagginess in an oxford is essential. (Sartre)


    Just received my jacket and it is fabulous. (JOB) 
    I just received my terrific Cordings House Check Tweed Field Coat, and was pleasantly surprised how heavy and warm it is. It’s definitely designed for chilly weather, and I now prefer it to the Barbour Beaufort (with lining) that I’ve been using for my excursions out into wild nature. Aesthetically, this tweed is subtler than the busier bold patterns I’ve seen, and goes better with everything. And to continue my life-long Dandy habit, I’ve also ordered the matching Cordings Croft Cap which I’m sure will impress to no end all the style-conscious animals and birds I’ll encounter in the fields. (RR)


    Dubarry of Ireland - Their boots and boat shoes are expensive but have been well worth the money. (Comment) 
    Second the recommendation of Dubarry as great quality.(LP) 
    Go Dubarry! I live in those boots all winter long! (Comment) 


    A Patagonia Snap-T
    I am not a big fan of any kind of "fleece" never worn by a sheep; call it what they will, it's still polyester, and has nothing like the warmth or wicking properties of natural wool. (Greenfield)
    Patagonia [has a] continued commitment to quality and to reducing consumption by promoting repairing, reusing and recycling to reduce our environmental footprint. (Bitsy)
    In the past I have purchased a number of items from Patagonia--including Snap-Ts, Stand Up shorts, insulated vests/jackets, etc. As many of these original items were constructed of "Synchilla", a product of Malden (MA) mills and Polartec, Patagonia has truly gotten away from their roots. Not only were the fabrics quite often created in U.S. mills, but the construction of garments was completed in the U.S. as well.  Patogonia's acknowledgement that such construction would currently be virtually impossible is certainly a sad state of affairs, but a little chicken and egg--which came first the lack of U.S.factories/workers or the shipping of jobs overseas for cheaper production and increased profit margins by companies like Patagonia. (childdoc)


    Barbours are Repaired, not Replaced
    Functional, long-lasting, outdoorsy, classic. (Michael, August 23, 2013)
    These were always just coats we found at the tack shop and wore at the barn!  (Sungish60669)
    Barbour is well-entrenched modern preppy, been sold at the Andover Shop since at least the early '80s. English origins don't negate its preppiness nor does the fact that people besides Sloane Ranger types wear it. Still great for damp weather. Wish it all was made in England and Scotland like before. (Comment)
    It's worn on every continent by people who value quality, craftmanship and tradition. (Bernie)
     The quality of Barbour has gone downhill in the last 5-8 years. Several years ago, I went shopping for a Barbour coat for my wife and I was shocked that outside the traditional oil slicked coats, most of their merchandise was mass produced in Asia. (Pete)
    Though expensive to purchase, are indeed an example of being frugal in the long run. I have several Barbour coats. The two oldest are a Beaufort which was purchased in 1981. My fly fishing Spey jacket (no long made) in 1983. Both are functional garments, both have been repaired and both represent outstanding value. Plastic, polyester or any type of synthetic outerwear cannot meet the criteria of long life, value and reparability. (Sean W.)


    I bought my first pair of Quoddy boat shoes at the beginning of this season, and love them. I suspect they will be in use for a very long time. (RR)
    My Quoddy shoes are the most comfortable pair of shoes I own. (Comment)
    Great shoes! Expensive, USA- and well-made goods with top quality materials are like nothing else. To buy anything else would be to downgrade. I love things that will last for 20 years because each time I wear or use them, they evoke great memories from the years past. They become like an old, familiar friend. (Comment)
    I have Quoddy's in several styles. Love them all. The Vibram sole on the boat mocs is quite durable, and really allows a nice grip on wet decks. (Charles Dryton)
    Quoddys are made to order. If shoes are important to you, they are worth the wait. They are not cheap, but the price is what you pay and lasting value is what you get. In many of their models, Quoddy uses top quality Horween leather from Chicago. The Horween website describes in detail their treatment of leather for fine shoes, jackets, etc. One of the great things about having a custom set of shoes ordered, is that they can usually accommodate varied widths and sizes. If you are one of the fortunate ones whose feet are exactly the same size and a medium width, this is not a big deal, but for the rest of us, it is... Buy from them while you can. This is American craftsmanship at its finest.  (Comment)
     I ordered a pair of Quoddy boat shoes and have worn them now for a few months. Hands down, these are the best boat shoes I have ever owned. (Gary) 

    J. Press

    If you want an ancient madder or challis tie or a three button sack, Press is the place. Plus their salesmen know what they're talking about. My problem with Press and your chart is that they have made themselves into two companies: J. Press and York Street. (Cranky Yankee)
      A shopping experience at J. Press is still a pleasure, and the quality is generally very high. A few disturbing trends that have been noted elsewhere, but on the whole the main brand remains fairly secure. (John) 
      The cynicism, ineptitude and greed demonstrated by the York Street line screams cash grab. (WRJ)

      Brooks Brothers

      BB had good quality clothes at a fair price during the 1980s.The quality and style have declined over time. Now they are just a sad joke. (Comment)
      My wardrobe includes many good items from BB: sport jackets, pants, ties, sweaters, OCBD shirts, polo shirts, etc. Although, many of these items were bought years ago, I continue to buy their clothing. I just stick with the traditional apparel and look. (Gary)
      For their all-cotton sure-to-wrinkle OCBD's and repp ties, or their Alden-made shoes, sure. Otherwise, Brooks Brothers has been wandering in the wilderness for quite a few years. (Michael)
      The brand cannot be relied on to provide consistency, and all purchases have to be scrutinized, including BB. Which is annoying. I find BB confusing--literally, I am often confused when shopping online or in stores. There seem to be dozens of fits for pants, suits, jackets, and shirts. There must be thousands of combinations of dress shirts available, between the various collars, patterns, colors, fits, and chemical coatings available. Most of these combinations are undesirable. Quality varies widely--some stuff made in the USA, some in Italy, some in Asia. It's cacophonous.  I really only consistently shop at BB for OCBDs, ties, and socks. (WRJ)
      I would not buy anything from them for casual wear but I still buy my suits and must-iron shirts from them. (Bernie)
        I'm afraid that all I can manage these days from Brooks Brothers are the original fit button-downs, the socks and underwear, the ties, and the shoes. Their khakis feel like design rejects from The Gap, the suits and blazers are all tricked out, and are identical to any good suit sold all over America.  I have a pair of khakis from BB which I purchased in 1991, and I treat them like gold, because the cut, the fabric, the hook-eye tab closure, aren't made by BB anymore. Again, if we're going to talk about the loss of preppy aesthetic, we have to address the dumbing-down effect of marketing to a wider, middlebrow, middle-American audience.(Michael Rowe)
        I was with Brooks Brother's Parent company in the late 70's and 80's, pretty much the zenith of their business. At the time, our shoes were made in England, we owned our own shirt factories in New Jersey, had a patent on the button down collar. Everything we did was geared to quality as we had clothed Presidents over the years. The boardroom on the 8th floor still echoed the ideas of the founder. But, in an unhappy takeover, the parent was bought out by Allied Stores who knew nothing about upscale retailing. As they began to influence us, they went into cost cutting measure to increase more own shoes, buy from Bass. Close the factories and have made in the orient. And, so on and so on. Later BB was sold to Marks and Spencer who did not know how to run it and it continued to go downhill. Now the present owners seem intent upon making it another J. Crew or Lands End. The sad demise of a once quality marque.(SpencerGray)

        L.L. Bean

        I have been a frequent Bean customer since the late 1960s. There is no question that the quality has dropped dramatically over the past 5-10 years. I still try but end up returning most of what I order. (Comment)
        Bean's quality has declined at a breakneck pace. (Comment)
        LLB should find [a new CEO] who understands that they cannot continue to produce poorly made products that are way overpriced and still make the kind of money that they have made the last few years. That trick may be used up. People are starting to wise up. (Comment)

        "Aimless clothing companies are now copying the preppy cosplayers on Instagram, who themselves were re-enacting the 'Meet the Hilfigers" advertisements, which were riffs on the earlier Ralph Lauren campaigns, that were based on the work of Slim Aarons."

          There is nothing at Bean today that appeals to me and anytime I visit their website, I feel as though I'm looking at a Walmart flyer. I visit Ebay in search of traditional quality made Bean items made prior to 2007 more often than I visit the Bean website. Bean doesn't seem to be carrying many, if any, products that would appeal to a value-minded traditionalist. I will buy the Bean totes and Bean boots but that's it. I once loved their oxford shirts but won't buy them now because they are treated. The rest of their clothing seems extremely over-priced for cookie cutter, cheap, trendy style and poor quality. (Mollie's Mom
          I have never experienced anything but the highest quality customer service from L.L. Bean. (Patsy) 
          I don't expect the Bean family to correct this when it was the Walton family that ruined their own legacy as well. My recent Bean jacket purchases are unworn; they sit in limbo as I decide to return them or not. I've already returned their completely disappointing Oxford shirts, which would could live up to their "wear like iron" claim as they already feel like something akin to metal against the skin. (James)

          Ralph Lauren

          RL makes a a number of great items and many awful items, which puts it in the same category as pretty much every other multinational clothing company in the world. Fits are generally predictable--there are two for shirts, classic and custom, and you know what you're getting with each. Non-iron is the exception and not the rule. Colors are consistently good. Tailored clothing is very expensive, but very high-quality. Still selling soft-shouldered jackets. Ties are made in Italy and are a league beyond Brooks Brothers in drape and design. I have a dozen or so of the classic cashmere sweaters that I wear 9 months of the year, and the quality is great, for the same price on-sale as a Shaggy Dog. I can't recall having a serious quality issue with any purchase, even items made in Asia--which I attribute to Mr. Lauren's reputed obsessive quality control. However, I tend to only buy on sale because (1) almost everything is marked down twice a year, (2) the higher-end items, particularly those that are made in Italy, are very expensive, and (3) I have set a low ceiling for what I'm willing to pay for items coming from the country of "Imported". (WRJ)
            I haven't forgiven RL for the Olympic uniforms made in China. (Rachel)
            I think Ralph Lauren was preppy. But now they have too many off brands and even a factory store. If you walk in any TJ Maxx or Marshalls they always have Ralph Lauren shirts there to buy. I feel that its too out there now, and I feel it kind of lost its luxury appeal. Now they have these oversized logos and this year they highlighted their "downtown prep" theme and its just seems wild to me and too phony. I'm sure there are staple items, but I don't know how long its going to last. (Berniex)
            Looking at Ties in their NY Store

            Vineyard Vines

            I worked at VV during college and in my experience outside of the ties nothing in the store was of very good quality. Their shirts are either plastic feeling or far too thin,... The best summation I have heard of VV is that they are mockery of preppy. They are over-the-top garish at times. (Zach)

            “Vineyard Vines epitomizes the current trend of style without substance"

              VV is not preppy or traditional. It’s a cash grab. (Ice Matty T)
              Shep and Ian are laughing all the way to the bank. I like and have a couple of their ties, but most (if not all) of the rest of their stuff is overpriced and of much lower quality.... And yes, a lot of their stuff is so over the top that only young teens and undergrads at southern colleges and universities dare wear some of the more garish colors and patterns. (Paul Connors, August 23, 2013)
              I would consider them tourist/resort/cruise wear. (Susan R)
              It's what non-preppy thinks preppy should be. (Bernie)
              I always feel sad for grown adult when I see them wearing VV, as if they've been duped! As for the younger set, their grown adult parents have also been duped in to buying for their children. (Comment)
              Copycat clothing for Copycat preps (Seas-the-day)
              Some of Vineyard Vines' First Products

              Lilly Pulitzer

              An indicator...?

              From 2011

              Vera Bradley

              I cherish my older VB bags, totes, and accessories because I preferred the patterns. They seemed to be based on Provencal fabrics and I liked them better. (Carole
              Not impressed with Vera for the last 10 years, they have become too trendy in design and color selection which is geared toward the tween, teen and coed market. (HipWaldorf
              Unfortunately, they have strayed from their French Provencal inspired fabric from the past. The fabrics now seem to be channeling psychodelic prints from the 60's. Some color schemes are pretty horrendous. (Comment) 
              I own a nice selection of Vera Bradley totes and zip around wallets that have been well taken care of, all purchased new many years ago -- in shades of pink, apple green, pale yellow, red and navy. I'll occasionally find something in a nice old pattern on eBay. However, I've purchased no new Vera patterns for a long time.  Like other companies, I wish they'd get the message that we'd like to see a return of traditional colors and patterns from the past. Over time, the collections have become so hideous and ghastly that they look cheap. (Comment) 
              I recall purchasing a tote shortly after they moved production overseas; the difference in quality was most noticeable in the number of loose threads at the seams.(Mary
              Not only has Vera Bradley decreased in quality and design (though not in price), it's no longer made in the US. I refuse to pay top-tier prices for an inferior, foreign made product. (Comment)
              Vera Bradley Vintage Bags From Their Precious and Iconic Phases

              Conclusion: The Barbour-crumb Tinies

              Companies are changing, seemingly faster than ever.  So perhaps, as Barbour today produces a collection of iconic jackets today, they are doomed.

              In the spirit of The Gashlycrumb Tinies written by Edward Gorey and first published in 1963, one can imagine all of the ways these jackets might be unwearable, from lower quality to new designs to deadening over-exposure to wearer misuse.

              The Barbour-crumb Tinies

              (a.k.a. How today's mix of economics, technology, and customer behaviors almost inevitably destroys all great products)

              A is for America's market, not Britain's
              B is for Brand creep:  wallets and mittens
              C is for Chairman and payout, the max
              D is for "Designed now so no need to wax"
              E is for Emmys, worn there as an item
              F is for Fire, a fast way to dry 'em
              G is for "Growth!" on employee screen savers
              H is for Heirs who are pro sports team cravers
              I is for Ironic:  high heels and no liners
              J is for Joint venture with hip designers
              K is for Knock-offs at Penney's and Sears
              L is for LBO's full of arrears
              M is for MBA's margins and throughputs
              N is for New products made for the outlets
              O is for Outsource to China and Turkey
              P is for Precious, not worn when it's murky
              Q is for Quick buck, to bolster the stock
              R is for Retiring – run out the clock
              S is for Soccer moms sans perspiration
              T is for Tumblr, the new inspiration
              U is for Unwaxed, just like Army surplus
              V is for Vineyard Vines' poached staff and bonus
              W is for Washer, “just trying to clean it"
              X is for Xtra large sizes that don't fit
              Y is for Young folks who tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet,
              Z is for Zippers not for the weak


              1. Replies
                1. J.Crew is the first company that came to mind in this category. I'm not too sure they will even make it to the "company shell" stage. Death watch seems more likely.


                2. The rumor here for some time has been that they're going under, but their one store here continues to operate. Not sure what it is they are selling, it seems to be a grab bag of stuff without much rhyme or reason; it seems they are primarily catering to millennial hipsters with too much money and not much taste or style sense.

              2. Barbour is the perfect example of cash grab. Hardly any classics remain.

                1. I would also add that most of Barbour's garments are made in China or Eastern Europe. It seems that only classic waxed jackets (mostly Bedale, Beaufort, Border and Northumbria) are made in the South Shields factory.

                  Most of the waxed and other jackets are in made in Eastern Europe, e.g. Romania. Similarly, very little knitwear is now made in the UK with China being the main source.

                2. At least the classics remain for Men. The women's products are absolutely terrible...all fashionable, nothing practical. I have a men's navy Bedale that I expect to hold on to for years. It may not be fashionable, or get photographed for "preppy style blogs" but it is warm, waterproof and perfect for walking the dog.

                3. Thankfully, I am only interested in the classic waxed cotton jackets. I think that this company is in pursuit of Burberry level success. At least what Burberry was before most people in England recoiled from Novacheck. They're striving to be edgy and fashionable instead of functional and classic.

              3. Thanks for bringing this post back, Muffy. I always find it so interesting to read all of the comments.


              4. Brooks Brothers is going down. Trying to impress " younger" shoppers with skinny clothes. The older customer is quickly becoming an afterthought....

                1. Agree 100% on Brooks Bros. 20 years ago, it was a staple of my husband's closet and I also had quite a collection of shirts and blazers.

              5. Cordings of Piccadilly (London) is an iconic brand. It invented the covert coat. No other firm offers a 7 piece tweed suits (field coat, action back jacket, sports coat, waistcoat, long trousers, plus 2s, plus 4s).

                Another British iconic brand is Grenfell. Its outerwear range (such as raincoats, golf jackets and Harringtons) is truly excellent. By contrast, Macintosh seems to fall into your "new markets" category. Aquascutum is firmly in the company shell category, an absolute shadow of the company that dominated Regent Street in decades gone by.

                Private White VC (Manchester and London) meets your definition of a precious brand. However, its high prices could inhibit its growth potential.

                Poor old Ralph Lauren must be a worried man. His company has gone through the cash grab stage and, like the hapless J Crew, entered the cash loss stage. It may not be around in a few years time.

              6. I know you've covered this concept before, but the phrase "it can indicate when to begin a switch to a new source."

                I think too many people still get caught up in the notion of buying the "right" brands, when said brands have abandoned the principles and quality that built their reputation.

                I remember peeking into a lacoste boutique and seeing polo shirts retailing for up to $165. The whole experience reminded me of the 'upmarket' duty-free shops in international airports. These companies are capitalizing on brand image to chase new aspirational markets that are unfamiliar or unconcerned with the 'material' history of the products; prestige and label are the primary selling points. That's probably why so much effort is put into building "since 1xxx" histories instead of putting money into the product itself.

                A consequence of globalization in the retail market.

                For what it's worth, I've come to prioritize fit and material over brand. Sometimes even company shells reliably produce one or two items that are worth stocking up on, when no other alternatives can be reliably sourced.

                1. Oh yes....Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren are at the cash grab stage, and Ralph Lauren is getting very close to company shell. They are no longer sources for me.


              7. Letherman LTD - Crucible
                Note: Although the clients are not demanding. Just good old New England style.

              8. Sperry - New Markets
                Note: I have like 20 pair but still wearing ones that are 17 years old on a daily basis. In fact, I just throw them in the washing machine anymore than use shoe forms and set them in the sun.

              9. The timeframe of the Iconic to New Markets transition seems to be pretty quick and Cash Grab/Company Shell not far behind. I don't frequent shopping centers too often and growing up my family traditionally made purchases from just a few retailers/brands for eons. So I have been caught unawares until the shocking need to switch to a new source because of dramatic change in quality/styling of a favorite. If only I could program my Alexa to monitor trends/business news so as to order in bulk when a retailer is about to evolve into early Iconic, and definitely when it reaches the tipping point!

              10. We went to Nordstrom's this week to try and buy a new pair of Cole Haan tassled loafers. The salesman looked at us funny and said they no longer carried that style anymore. There was no alternative either. I guess they don't care that baby boomers can no longer replace their worn-out, twice resoled loafers. They are apparently catering to a new generation even though we are the ones with the money to buy their goods.

                1. When Cole Haan was purchased by Nike, the decline began. My husband and I used to purchase so many shoes from them in the early 1990s. They went the way of Coach.


                2. "They went the way of Coach".

                  So true. I am still carrying Coach bags from 1990 and only just gave up my last pair of CH sandals from the same era.

                  Analysts demand constant earnings growth and management of these publicly traded companies have no choice but to cash grab for as long as possible before they reach their bottoms.

              11. Not sure where Bean fits any more, pretty much a shell, so many outsourced products, inconsistent materials, cut and fit varies widely. Order three shirts and they are all different. I have Bean items that are 40 years old, still function, show little wear. Bean has become a costume store pushing the brand, no longer building, a quality relationship with their customers. They are not too big to fail. I was lucky to enjoy their products when quality was their number one goal. Things change, New England Yankees, not so much.

              12. Brooks Brothers is now firmly in "Company Shell" territory. Everything I have (foolishly) purchased from them recently is garbage, but certainly not priced like it. No more.

                1. I recently made my first BB purchase (not counting Black Fleece). BB recently reintroduced its OCDB shirt with mother-of-pearl-buttons and an unfused collar, which gives the collar a really nice roll. The fit (Regent Fit) is superb. Best of all: made in America.

                2. Sadly, BB's OCDB is priced at over £150 in London's Regent Street. Rip-off Britain strikes gain!

              13. Check out the book How The Mighty Fall by Jim Collins, in which he describes the five stages of a company's death: 1) Hubris born of success, 2) Undisciplined pursuit of more, 3) Denial of risk and peril, 4) Grasping for salvation, and 5) Capitulation to irrelevance or death. What you describe here for clothing companies is pretty much universal for all organizations, whether companies or church denominations, since they are all populated with people and people behave and react the same way no matter where they are, what organization they are in, or what their product is. No matter where we go, there we are.

              14. Lacoste is certainly a shell. However I have heard they don't have good costumer service. So, it is even worse than the chart would entail.

                Where the hell do I buy clothes? Everything sucks now.

                1. Look towards smaller local brands and go to the source. If you are savvy about googling and willing to pay for what the work and fabric is worth you can find pretty much everything you want - the issue starts, I think, when people are unwilling to pay for quality work and materials and the company reduces to keep the profit margin.

                  I look towards the heritage workwear subculture as a springboard for many of my buying purchases, not the visible prep fashion community. I think that the core of the heritage workwear community's values are more similar to old school prep values - buy it for life, mend it if needed, and don't be afraid to get a little dirty or do some work in your clothes. At fist glance, especially when I saw it coming out of Japan in the early 00's, the clothes seem to be styled in a way that's kind of like a costume or parody of the work itself but a lot of it does have it's roots in real work. For example, Gamine Denim was developed by a horticulturist who kept busting the knees out of her pants. As an avid gardener I had a similar problem with my gardening pants and finding a piece of clothing designed for the work solved lots of issues and I was pleased to support the company.

                  Alternatively, you could sew your own clothes. Or SWNE can pool our money together and do some sort of clothing cooperative/startup.

                  In conclusion, I respectfully disagree that everything sucks now - you just have to work a little harder to find it.

                  - ER

                2. I agree about the Gamine Workwear Company. Very well made, In the USA, and the front pockets are berfect for holding secateurs, and other smallish tools. I haven't had a blown out knee for quite some time.

                3. The SWNE Coop!

              15. Precious or Iconic - that's where a company should stop trying to be cool, and accept that your 8 or 10 percent of market share is just fine for your company and its 80 or so employees. You get to bask in the knowledge that you're the best there is at what you do.
                Boring, but this approach leads to a company lifetime measured in multiple decades. LL Bean was a perfect example of this, until sometime in the 80s, I guess.
                - Charlie

              16. Other cash grab companies are Gant, Tommy Hilfiger and Hackett. Almost everything is manufactured in China and Asia. Gant is owned by a Swedish company. Hackett is owned by the Spanish family that owns Zara and Massimo Dutti. IIRC Hilfiger is owned by PVH which other tat brands like Calvin Klein.

                The prices charged by those companies are ridiculously high, similar to Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers. Their garments are no better than other mass market brands that are found in malls and department stores.

                Why pay fortheir huge corporate salaries, luxurious headquarters and excessive marketing/PR budgets? It's cheaper to buy better quality goods that are manufactured in the US, Britain and Europe.

              17. Somehow I doubt that a company with only 80 or so employees is going to have 8 or 10 percent of the market but I suppose it depends on what the product is and how you define the market.

                There are a fair number of American-made products that are still in the first couple of categories, mostly of a custom made nature. I'm not speaking of clothes necessarily but of all sorts of things. Sometimes a company will not have begun as such a company but evolved into a producer of high-quality custom products, sometimes having begun as a seller of other company's mass produced products. Mass produced, it should be noted, does not imply low quality.

                I have no idea what "cool" is supposed to mean but some companies try to be exclusive or to give the impression they are, probably as a marketing ploy to increase the desirability of the product. That was a marketing strategy for Ralph Lauren for a while, although their products were of good quality.

                I'd have to say that the most significant period that a company goes through is when the founder leaves the company, which is inevitable. The company may flounder for a while before it "finds itself." In some instances it may not be the founder but rather the person who took the company and created something better with it. Ray Kroc did not found McDonald's but he all but did by making it a franchise model. This can be true of even very large companies, too, but it may go unnoticed because of the size.

                We rarely know the internal workings of companies and things may not be as we see them. Markets change. Styles change. Things that we think should sell very nicely may not and for all sorts of reasons. Companies face competition, too. Cabela's is real competition for L.L. Bean and they aren't trying to be anything that you think L.L. Bean ought to be. I've always liked Filson and have a lot of their stuff. But like many of you, I don't care for some of their contemporary styles. All I can say is, I guess they aren't counting on too many sales to 70-year olds like myself. But after all, nothing I buy now really needs to last all that long and I know my son won't wear it.

              18. I wasn't a customer of LL Bean's or of Brooks or even of Ralph Lauren back when their women's trousers had no stretch and actually fit. I wonder if they ever would have fit me. What I do know for sure is that despite the state of their business, J Crew has managed to maintain a staff that knows how to draft a pattern without relying upon stretch. They are currently offering women's trousers that fit, and I have stocked up at a discount. A few years back, I did the same with Brooks Brother's summer sheath dresses; which involved some of the most difficult to follow drafting I had ever tried to replicate.

              19. We went to Houston yesterday and while there I hit Brooks, Vinyard Vines, Dillards, RL, in search of a blazer to replace a threadbare jacket I have literally worn to pieces. ( Brooks Brothers)
                Nothing would I wear or consider wearing. The blazer while a summer weight, at Vinyard Vines was so thin, so poorly constructed I think it is made to wear perhaps one season. The other shops offerings were no better. We also visited Orvis to seek a replacement for an older bag that has literally traveled the world. China, England, Korea, Alaska. We found the exact same bag, now 3 times the price and already the bottom stitching was loose. While at Orvis we discussed with an older lady our dilemma and she suggested ' vintage' products being sold on sites such as ebay.

              20. Having been critical of several brands, I should add to my list of companies who offer superb products.

                Chapman Bags (Cumbria) - precious
                Budd Shirts (Piccadilly) - iconic
                Crockett & Jones shoes (Northampton) - iconic
                Gaziano & Girling shies - precious

                Sadly, I must also add to the list of "cash grab" companies

                Tricker's shoes (higher prices, lower quality, silly colours)
                Hilditch & Key shirts (huge price hike failed, now made in Italy rather than Scotland)
                Gieves & Hawkes (ruined by Chinese owners, probably nearer the company shell stage now)
                New & Lingwood (ridiculous prices, dreadful patterns and mall sub-brand)

                Huntsman (Savile Row tailor) belongs firmly in the new markets category. It's now an expensive toy for its new hedge fund owner and his "designer" partner. More price hikes and all the staff that I knew have left.

                John Smedley is also now in the new markets stage. It is certainly is targetting the youth market, with garish colours and designs, rather than its core customers.

              21. Please enter Chipp2. Paul Winston, son of the founder, still makes great ties. Will pick up the phone. Great stories about Chipp suits on JFK

              22. In previous years, Talbots and Lands' End were always mentioned. They are probably in the "company shell" category, but for me they are simply off the chart and off my radar. What about Lotuff? "Precious"? J.Press? I don't remember if J. McLaughlin was on previous charts, but I would put them in the "shell" category. I was in a store recently, and it was racks of pure poly--those dresses that feel sort of slippery like thicker Quiana from the 1970s. If they had told me to take anything I wanted for free, I would have still left with nothing.


              23. New England Outerwear and New England Shirt Company: precious. Hartford Denim Company: crucible. I recently visited all three of these brands, with the first story about NEOC now live:

              24. As Timberland's and Sebago's quality and ranges have declined dramatically due to their respective "cash grab" strategies, I need to find an alternative source to replace two pairs of Sebago Clovehitch boat shoes.

                Does anyone have recent experience of Quoddy and Rancourt? I would be interested to read comments on quality, sizing, fit and customer service. I need an American EEE (UK G) width. Alternative suggestions would be very welcome.

                1. I ordered a pair of Quoddy bluchers back in Dec. 2016. I worked with a rep all throughout the design/order process to make sure the sizing and fit were good. When the shoes were delivered, I realized that they were still a bit loose at the heel. I mentioned this to the rep and she promptly put in an order for a new, smaller pair at no charge.

                  I would advise talking to a rep throughout the process so that they're aware of what's going on. I thought the customer service was superb.

              25. I like Quoddy a lot; great quality and customer service. I notice that they are changing a bit with some sales and added styles. I think their prices are fair for their quality.
                I have been tempted by Rancourt but have not tried them yet.

              26. Lands' End -- Company Shell (or beyond). I remember when they used to have great products at very reasonable prices.

                My last experience (probably in both meanings of the word "last") was when I took a chance and bought a pair of "penny loafers" from them. First, they weren't real penny loafers, like Bass or Cole-Haan (neither of which you can find here any longer), just some sort of ugly pointy Chinese shoe with a fake piece of "penny loafer" leather glued on top. Second, they began to fall apart and the faux cordovan finish began coming off within a week, exposing an ugly pink undercoating. My wife thought they were so hideous she had a couple of pairs of my old beat-up real penny-loafers re-soled and re-finished at the shoe repair shop and she told me never to wear the Lands' End shoes again.

              27. This article is enlightening and a little depressing at the same time. Now I finally understand what has happened to my beloved Paul Smith brand - the cash grab. And it happened so fast. Three seasons ago it was still superb.

                As far as brand like Ralph Lauren are concerned I now follow a simple rule - if the garment is made in China, India, Bangladesh or any of the other fleshpots in Asia then I pass.

                Acceptable production areas are anywhere in Europe, Turkey, Morocco, and of course the USA.

              28. Aside from the cost of American labor, true also in some other countries, manufacturers sometime face the problem of finding skilled employees. Factory work has never been an attractive occupation but that's where clothing comes from. As a matter of fact, it is a problem that seems to be an issue in several industries, finding employees with the necessary skills and good work habits. Perhaps it is no wonder than manufacturers move their operations offshore.

              29. Leatherman's quality and customer service have basically disappeared. I have been dealing with them both personally and professionally since the mid 1990's. I would say they are in a twilight zone combination of failed cash grab and poorly engineered attempt at new markets. I love and appreciate their original product, image, and mission. Just feel they lost site of that over the last 5 or so years. YRI Designs based in NH since 1967 is a classic ribbon belt company. Superior product quality, fantastic, consistent, and personable customer service. Owners are still actively involved and I have been dealing with the same Rep for 20+ years. They also have successfully balanced the retail and corporate/club world well as well as adding product that appeals to a more contemporary market, but without losing their strong New England flavor or selling out for the quick buck.

              30. My very old Vera Bradley purses are still serving their purpose at 21 to 26 years of age. Recently, I perused the VB website and was sorely disappointed.

                1. Twenty years ago I attended a tea and book signing with Tasha Tudor and she was carrying an original Vera Bradley that looked as worn as her vintage clothes - so charming! It was a sign of the quality and integrity of their products at that time. While the Vera Bradley raffle basket still draws quite a bit of attention at our annual library auction, it holds no appeal for me. In my opinion, that line has gone down the drain. But I'm happy to have and use the vintage patterns I fell in love with over 20 years ago, all made in Indiana when VB was a cottage industry. I especially enjoy the totes and overnight pieces - some of the same ones Muffy features. Just sadly proves...nothing lasts forever.

                2. There are many local companies that will sew a Vera-like bag for you, if you don't want to try DIY. There is great US made fabric, such as the Blueberry Buckle series from Clothworks/Marsha McCloskey.

              31. Some serious irony to this bemoaning the loss of quality as American brands are made overseas. The globalist dream fulfilled, top dollar prices asked for shoddy goods with luxury brand names of yore. Chinese Volvo anyone? As grandfather would say "you wanted it you got it". Hang on to your good stuff and find a good tailor for repairs.

                1. So True. I wish I had kept more. I moved around and was always purging to lighten the load. I didn't see this coming.


              32. Russell Moccasins; the company, the products and the family that manages the operation are precious.
                Old pairs of Barrie's shoes are very precious.
                Thank you.

              33. There are a few styles of Barbour jackets for women on the TJMaxx site. I didn't check to see if there were any for men. I'm pretty sure these are not the styles that are still made in England. There is a Rannoch Beadnell in navy in size 6, but I think that style is "imported." Is this telling? Cash grab?


                1. We were going to rep Barbour at a friend's store, and would have done well with the brand, but the colours of the women's jackets were just so ghastly, that we passed. Dusty rose, faded blue, pale yellow? Hell no!

              34. We have numerous McArthurGlen designer outlets in the UK and you can tell who is doing what just by browsing each store. There are many shops who are guilty of the cash grab and company shell status; Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Lacoste, Hackett, Hugo Boss. You can feel just how poor quality the clothing is and you know that a lot of it hasn't ever seen a retail store, it's just been designed and manufactured to be sold in the outlet with a RRP price and a cheaper outlet price on the label as if you are getting a bargain. You're not.


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