To reclaim its prestige and profitability, Brooks Brothers needs something new, starting with me.
Call it crazy, but getting out of bankruptcy and changing the perception of a historic brand like Brooks Brothers may require an unusual shake up. Me.
Admittedly, this may sound crazy at first, but hear me out. Brooks Brothers needs me alongside CEO Claudio Del Vecchio, running the 202 year old, New York based brand that’s dressed U.S. presidents, celebrities and businesspeople around the world.
Why me? I am going to help shape the next generation of clothing and style. Together with Brooks Brothers, we can create a bold, new, and profitable direction that ties in its heritage to the newer culture of America’s style and business landscape. Simply put, I can make Brooks Brother cool and profitable again.
Prior to the June 5 New York Times article highlighting issues with the failing brand, I actually preferred them to be seen as an old, conservative, out-of-the-know company, making boring, boxy men’s clothing (I’ll quickly note, their women’s line is better than the men’s) – it made it easier to sell the GPS and Wedding GPS brands and products.
Then, something happened.
Something changed in me
I did a ton of research on the company. I learned about its influence on U.S. style as a whole, as well as what it’s meant to the individuals who have worn it for two centuries. If you want to understand how Brooks Brothers is admired, read this great article by author Lisa Birnbach, “Save Brooks Brothers!“
I started thinking about all the possibilities and brainstorming what I would do if I were in Mr. Del Vecchio’s position. How I’d pull them out of bankruptcy into profitability. How I’d appeal to and respect the company’s lifelong, older clients, while attracting and intriguing younger ones.
When I get excited about something, I’m all in. The sort of excitement I had creating this plan to get the attention of Mr. Del Vecchio and other Brooks Brothers executives is usually saved for GPS projects and ideas. Since GPS has been my baby for a couple years now (with the exception of Paddington), this energy for something else was pretty rare. I’ll admit, I even enjoyed thinking about Brooks Brothers.
Anyone that really knows me, knows how serious I am by the fact I’m willing to go back to corporate life for this. It is not something I take lightly. I am a proud entrepreneur: I started GPS with nothing and built it into something. Creating something that brings joy, confidence, respect, beauty, and fun to many, while running my own ship and schedule means the world to me. But it is precisely that that Brooks Brothers needs right now.
So how was I to go about getting in contact with the decision makers and what was I going to do?
They filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, July 8, and my plan kicked into hyperspeed. Every minute I’m not on their radar meant they were taking the company in a different direction. I didn’t have time to do anything too elaborate, so I went back to the basics.
The plan was to send Mr. Del Vecchio a handwritten letter stating why I should run Brooks Brothers, and follow it up with an email to him and other executives four days later. I chose four days later because mailing an envelope from Chicago to New York takes approximately three days, and I wanted to give an extra day assuming no one would read it the day it arrives.
I sent the letter on Thursday, July 25.
Why do I think someone will read it, or that it may actually get to him or his assistant? Because I thought about every detail and it has a surprise factor to it. Seriously, who gets handwritten letters anymore?
The paper was nice. The envelope was a lightly textured pale grey. I included two photos to show that I do, in fact, look the part. I purchased Oscar de la Renta stamps because they were beautiful and fashion-related.
It took a bit of digging, and maybe a little creeping, to find the emails of his assistant, his COO, and his son, Matteo Del Vecchio, who runs a jewelry subsidiary of Brooks Brothers, Deconic. Their emails arrive on July 28.
So what would I do with Brooks Brothers?
I can’t divulge all the details because obviously I’d lose some leverage, but here’s a quick list of ten things I’d do, followed by a few additional thoughts on each.
- Develop an entrepreneurial mindset
- Huge tech play
- Overhaul of the silhouettes and designs
- Strategic acquisitions
- Wedding industry involvement
- Better + the right content
- Fix the brand architecture
- Up the social good
- New advertising/marketing channels
1. Develop an entrepreneurial mindset
I started GPS with $-60 in my bank account and made $100,000 in the first nine months of selling custom clothing. How? I did whatever I had to and I hustled. I would paint friends’ homes and substitute teach so I could pay for business cards and flyers to hand out at trade shows and wedding expos.
Every client has my cell and knows they can text or call with any questions, any time. I went the extra mile for clients to ensure they would tell everyone they knew that I was the best. Not just as a clothier and stylist, but as a person.
Brooks Brothers needs that mentality right now. They need to do whatever they can to succeed, and they need to show everyone – not just their diehard fans – that they are good people willing to go the extra mile.
It’s time, Brooks Brothers. You look old and outdated. Your shopping and garment bags look old, your stores look old, your typeface looks old. I do love the Golden Sheep logo though, but we’re taking it off the front of your shirts. You look exclusive, but not in a good way. It’s time to change all of this, and I have already put together a demo-portfolio of what the company’s branding could look like.
Their storefronts aren’t great, either. Sure, they began a global interior redesign recently, but that’s only a small start. I’d like to tweak that redesign before it hits the rest of the stores that will remain open.
3. A huge tech play
The general look of the website will fall under branding, so this is separate from that and e-commerce, which would obviously have a heavy focus.
But what about tech that can give Brooks Brothers access to an incredible amount of demographic and sales data from clothing stores around the country and world? Something that can and would be used by hundreds of retailers. Expensive upfront, but quite the return on investment within five to seven years.
4. Overhaul of the silhouettes and designs
Besides clients coming to me because of the fun and overall experience I provide, I am very good at design and understanding fit. I’ve dressed hundreds of guys and have seen all sorts of fit preferences while designing and styling.
I’d say a third of my appointments included a guy saying he’s tried Brooks Brothers and the fit flat out sucks. The silhouettes and designs aren’t modern, and even their Fitted, Slim and Extra Slim shirts aren’t really as described. They need different fabrics, they need different styles. I have hundreds of designs and styles I think could be successful for decades to come.
Both older and younger gentlemen appreciate that I know how to properly tailor garments. You know those suits that look painted on guys on Instagram? Not my design style. Big and baggy clothing? Definitely not. I understand that it’s about making people look as flattering as possible, no matter their age or dimensions. Brooks Brothers needs to think about the future, who they will be dressing, and how those people want to be dressed.
5. Strategic acquisitions
There are a handful of companies I think could add to the Brooks Brothers Group, Inc. portfolio. The big tech play idea could be large enough to be a subsidiary and run under the group. From sourcing, production, brands and technology, there are options to explore.
6. Wedding industry involvement
I’ve spent the last few years learning about and better understanding the wedding industry. While it’s been hit hard by the pandemic, now is the perfect time to invest in this industry and be a leader when it bounces back.
Given what I do with Wedding GPS, there is no one that has the vision and expertise like I do. I know what the future could look like, and Brooks Brothers can make it happen.
I can make Brooks Brothers the go-to shop for wedding garments.
7. Better + the right content
One of the bigger issues that I see for Brooks Brothers right now is their unrelatability. They display Prep. Prep is seen as exclusive, but now in a bad way.
Even one of the comments in the article I shared said, “BB is the official uniform of the game created by preps to exclude people.”
The reality is that is how they’re more widely perceived. It doesn’t help that their Instagram shows nothing but Prep and features little diversity.
Let me in there and I guarantee new styles, tying Prep to Urban, Street, Leisure, and Athletic, will hit the Gram in less than a year. More diverse models, groups, celebrities. More creativity and fun.
8. Fix the brand architecture
If you can get a $1,600 suit for $500 in the outlet, why would you ever pay more? And wouldn’t you think that means something is off with the quality? Absolutely.
There’s a right way to do outlet stores and a wrong way. For the most part, I believe too many companies decrease the value of their brand and product by incorrectly offering them in outlet or discount stores. It’s about brand architecture.
You know what company has a firm understanding of brand architecture? Ralph Lauren. Their Purple Label is known for its quality and beauty. Lower down on their list, POLO and Lauren Ralph Lauren were made to showcase different collections at lower price points, while being a great option for outlets and discount stores. A couple others in between, and all have clear purposes. This is well-done.
Brooks Brothers has a confusing mix of collections including 1818, BrooksGate™, Golden Fleece® and Red Fleece. What’s the difference? Hard to say.
You would also expect a suit in their Golden Fleece® collection to be much more than others if that’s their higher-end line (which may or may not be the actual case, but it sure sounds like it should be), but it’s not much more and the quality doesn’t scream better just by looking online.
I’d tidy this up and set a clear architecture that instills the right vibes in each.
9. Up the social good
More than ever, there’s opportunity to do good. Brooks Brothers’ website clearly shows their Social Purpose and organizations they support. I really thought their corporate response on equality and taking action were well done.
Great start. Let’s do more. Let’s really be out there leading the way. As America’s oldest clothing brand, it’s their responsibility to do more. I have several ideas that will get that underway.
Here’s one freebie… take the clothes that they’d normally send to outlets and use them to start a program that dresses underprivileged individuals or jobless-veterans for job interviews. Dress them, provide training, and give them a few shirts to wear to their new job.
10. New advertising/marketing channels
There are a few ideas I have that should be implemented ASAP. Now, I can’t get into the details, but it’s time to be where the target demographic is.
As the country’s oldest clothing company, there should be some amazing content coming out regularly across various channels. I believe they need to think differently, bigger and better, even if the bigger means thinking smaller.
Weaving it all together
How is that my first pun in this article? Anyway… I believe I can transform Brooks Brothers into a fashion and style powerhouse once again. I can change the way people think about the brand and the cute little Golden Sheep logo.
So I wrote a letter to the CEO. Whether or not I hear back from him or any of the executives is unknown. At the very least, it has given me a blueprint to make GPS an even better company.
Maybe with enough support from readers and getting in touch with the right people, I can get his ear