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Jacob Bogage and Abha Bhattarai,
The Washington Post
July 8, 2020 | 2:36 PM
The coronavirus recession has done in one of the nation’s oldest and best known retailers: Brooks Brothers.
The 202-year brand that claims to have dressed all but four U.S. presidents and legions of business executives in its sharp Oxfords, classic suits and polos for casual Friday, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday in Delaware as it continues its search for a buyer, according to a company spokesperson.
The company is set to close 51 of its 250 North American stores and will halt production at its factories in Massachusetts, North Carolina and New York in mid-August, which produce less than 7% of its finished goods. Remaining stores will reopen in compliance with local public health orders tied to pandemic-related closures.
Brooks Brothers, owned by its chief executive Claudio Del Vecchio, has long sought a buyer and has not struggled to field bids. But the pandemic, along with changing workplace fashion trends, disrupted the sale process. The company secured $75 million in debtor-in-possession financing to continue its operations during the sale process.
It’s the latest large American apparel retailer to struggle under the weight of the pandemic, following J.C. Penney, J. Crew and Neiman Marcus into bankruptcy court. Ascena Retail, which operates Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant could be next; Bloomberg reports a filing could come as soon as this week.
Brooks Brothers — founded in 1818 and known for its “formal, old school approach” — has been slow to keep up with changing consumers tastes and styles, said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. It has also lost relevancy as Corporate America goes casual, replacing business suits and ties with jeans and puffy vests.
“Brooks Brothers has long suffered from a failure to decisively adapt to changing trends,” Saunders wrote in a note to clients. “It has become increasingly out of step with a new generation of consumers who are looking for a more edgy approach to smart casual.”
Younger shoppers in particular have flocked to more accessible competitors like SuitSupply, Tie Bar, Bonobos, even J. Crew, that specialize in more modern styles, analysts said.
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