Brooks Brothers


Put away your irons, ladies! Brooks Brothers has just introduced its world-exclusive, non-iron stretch shirt for women, a 93 percent cotton/7 percent XLA (Dow Chemical fiber) blend that looks sharp and travels well, says Joe Dixon, executive vice president. The shirt is just the latest development to sprout from the company's 186-year history of quality and innovation, which produced the first ready-to-wear suits in America in 1845, the first argyle hose in 1949 and the only made-to-measure non-iron men's shirts.

The women's non-iron shirt was not much more than a twinkle in the eye when Dow Chemical approached Brooks Brothers with an idea for creating a new concept - a stretch fiber that can survive the extreme heat of wrinkle-resistant processing. With head-spinning speed, the non-iron shirt has made it from post-fabric development to market in three months.

No doubt that's largely because of the flat organizational structure at Brooks Brothers, which eschews hierarchy and focuses on "keeping it simple" and empowering everyone to innovate and make decisions, says Dixon. "We're always looking for ways to produce product that will enhance the consumer's wearing experience," he says.

The privately held company has experienced a major upswing (read double-digit growth for the past three years) since Claudio Del Vecchio brought Brooks Brothers under the Retail Brand Alliance portfolio in 2001 and set forth his vision to reinvigorate the brand by returning to its roots as purveyor of the finest quality merchandise, period. Thus began an "incredible period" of upgrading all products with the finest compact spun yarns, the highest-grade cashmere, and so forth, while at the same time going "cold turkey" on promotions, Dixon explains.

The plan worked, and consumer reaction has been loud and clear: "Wow, Brooks Brothers is back, with beautiful product, and then some," says Dixon. And coupled with that has been this reaction: "I better buy it now because I'm not sure I'll be able to buy it when it's on sale." Dixon says he was startled one day while in the company's Fifth Avenue store during a biannual sale to hear a customer "complaining bitterly" that the store did not have a sale item in the customer's size. The customer was informed that "we were sorry, but it was really the objective of the exercise - to sell out," quips Dixon, adding: "It's a nice problem to have."

While keeping an eye on the ball of product innovation and serving the consumer, Brooks Brothers also has maintained a strong record of giving back to the community. It supports the Make-a-Wish Foundation, for example, by donating a portion of the proceeds from exclusive wine-and-cheese shopping nights held several times a year for its best customers. The retailer also sponsors cultural events such as Winton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center.



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