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Brooks Brothers is one of the oldest ready-to-wear apparel retailers in the United States, with their first store, D. H. Brooks & Co., opening in New York City in 1818. The company became known as Brooks Brothers in 1850. For the last 200 years since it was founded, Brooks Brothers has continually added and adapted products and services to meet the wants and needs of its customers. For example, in 1849 ready-made suits were introduced; in 1896 the company introduced its ready-to-wear men’s shirt with a button-down collar; a women’s shirt was introduced in 1949; a women’s department was added in 1976; their first international location (Japan) was opened in 1979; their online store was introduced in 1998; and in 2009 Brooks Brothers opened their first brick-and-mortar stores in Canada and Mexico (Brooks Brothers 2017). With two centuries of being in business, Brooks Brothers epitomizes a heritage fashion brand company. Known for classic styling, Brooks Brothers apparel and accessories are made from high-quality materials with quality construction and attention to details, thus providing customers with merchandise that they can wear for years. However, as with any heritage fashion brand, to remain successful requires constant analyses of fashion trends and the target customer’s lifestyle, and consequently adding and adapting products and services to address trend and lifestyle changes.
Made-to-measure programs are offered by fashion brand companies catering to a clientele who are willing to pay more for garments that fit them better than ready-to-wear. Using a customer’s body measurements to adapt a base pattern, made-to-measure garments are individually constructed for the particular customer. The Brooks Brothers Made-to-Measure program enables customers to select a design from a portfolio of suits, sports coats, and dress shirts; select a material from a catalog of fabrics; and order a custom-made garment in one of the unique fits offered by Brooks Brothers. A variety of styling details can also be selected including collars, cuffs, and lapel styles. Brooks Brothers Made-to-Measure dress shirts continue to be popular items among those wanting classic dress shirt designs, in one of four types of fit with customized details (collars, cuffs, pocket, back pleat, and/or embroidered initials on the cuff). Currently, Brooks Brothers offers Made-to-Measure dress shirts made from either Classic 100 percent cotton or Non-iron 100 percent cotton fabrics in several weaves including herringbone, twill, broadcloth, oxford, and pinpoint.
A team of designers and merchandisers at Brooks Brothers is evaluating fiber and fabric options and will be deciding whether to add any additional fiber/fabric choices to the offerings for the Made-to-Measure program for dress shirts. Brooks Brothers ready-to-wear dress shirts are offered in materials including BrooksCool® cotton fabric that is treated to enhance breathability and specialty cotton materials (e.g., Egyptian cotton, Supima® cotton, and Sea Island cotton). In addition to evaluating and considering these specialty cotton materials, the team of designers and merchandisers is considering adding fabrics made from 100 percent silk, 100 percent Tencel® lyocell, and 100 percent organic cotton to the options currently available to their Made-to-Measure clients. The team must evaluate the wants and needs of their customers, the characteristics of the materials, and the viability of using the materials for their Made-to-Measure program. The team has decided that no more than two additional fabrics will be added to the current program’s offerings. Which two fabrics, if any, should they add?
Go to the Brooks Brothers website and review the styles, fabrics, and prices of Brooks Brothers ready-to-wear and Made-to-Measure dress shirts. How would you describe the primary target customer for Brooks Brothers ready-to-wear and Made-to-Measure dress shirts? Describe Brooks Brothers’ Made-to-Measure dress shirt program. Why is offering this program important to Brooks Brothers? What do you believe is the future of the made-to-measure dress shirt program?
List at least three advantages and three disadvantages of each of the fiber options currently being used by Brooks Brothers; also list three advantages of the additional fiber options the company is considering. You will need to research each of the fibers/fabrics and their characteristics and then evaluate how and why these characteristics may be considered an advantage, disadvantage, or both.
From a merchandising perspective, the team of designers and merchandisers has determined that they will add no more than two fabrics to the current offerings to their clients for the Made-to-Measure program. Of the fiber/fabric options you evaluated, which additional two options would you recommend being offered, if any? Why did you recommend these options? Why did you decide to not recommend the other options?
The business questions may be assigned as an out-of-class writing activity. Students would be expected to research and respond to each of the questions. Grading of the questions would be based on their providing complete answers with justification. The out-of-class writing activity could then be used as the basis for in-class small group or full class discussion.
The case study could serve as a prompt to a larger discussion of heritage brands and strategies heritage brands use to stay current with ever-changing wants and needs of their target customers.
At the end of the class, allow 5–10 minutes for students to reflect on and write what they learned from the case study and what additional questions they have. Questions can be addressed at the end of class or at the beginning of the following class.
Brooks Brothers. 2017. “About Us: Our Heritage.” Accessed November 7, 2017. http://www.brooksbrothers.com/about-us/about-us,default,pg.html .
The background information for this case study is based on publicly available information. The business problem of adding fiber/fabric options to Brooks Brothers’ Made-to-Measure dress shirt program is speculative only and not based on publicly available and/or documented information from Brooks Brothers. The authors do not intend to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a situation.
This case study was adapted by permission from Burns, Leslie Davis, Kathy K. Mullet, and Nancy O. Bryant. “Fabric Choices for Brooks Brothers’ Made-to-Measure Dress Shirts.” In The Business of Fashion: Designing, Manufacturing, and Marketing, 5th edn., 100. New York: Fairchild Books, 2016.