L.L.Bean: A New Beginning?

Last year I shared in a few different posts why I was breaking up with L.L.Bean despite decades of loyalty and satisfaction. In summary I outlined how the quality had declined so much that we were doing too many returns/exchanges which preceded Bean yanking their legendary return policy, customer service suffered and I witnessed them moving almost all of their manufacturing from the US to overseas. I wanted to move more towards buying US made and ethically sourced clothing. Here is an update, contrition included:

Wayne and I went from over half of our annual clothing purchases coming from Bean to the purchase of a few work t-shirts for Wayne, an exchanged defective sweater and a sweatshirt. Instead of making a monthly trip to Freeport we went only once. Just this morning when we were talking about what we wanted to do for fun tomorrow we both lamented that it wouldn’t be going to L.L.Bean. Really, this has been like a true breakup! But with Lent coming I was reflecting on what I’ve learned this past year.

I spent weeks looking online for clothing made in the USA that would also fit our style and actually fit. We’re both tall so we need longer sizes, too. That was when I discovered Rambler’s Way, a locally based upscale natural fiber clothing store where they make the clothing right in the store (founded by Tom of Tom’s of Maine*). As I wrote in that post, I loved the clothing for Wayne/men but at the time wasn’t a good fit for our budget with our wedding coming up.

I did not have good luck otherwise with my search as far as US made clothing. We did order from a US made clothing website that seemed promising but the quality was not good! It’s now a yardwork shirt for Wayne.

I upped my clothing purchases from UK-based Marks & Spencer, but mostly summer clothing (their knit tops, cotton sweaters and skirts work with my tall frame) and ladies undergarments. They have great bed, bath and kitchen linens, too. Marks & Spencer was named UK’s most ethical high street clothing retailer in Ethical Consumer Magazine. The best is that they ship for free over $50 and have free returns (when you use PayPal) although I’ve not had to return anything. (An aside, want to talk about vanity sizing? In the US I wear a size small/zero for tops. I’m a size 12 – 14 in the UK!)

Wool sweaters made in Ireland can be purchased online in many places with free shipping and returns. It took me a few tries due to inconsistent sizing but finally got a classic keeper that I love.

The reality though is that we are still buying clothing from American companies with overseas suppliers without any mention of the ethics for their sourcing. It’s as if the brands marketing departments don’t even care to pretend. The reason why we’re still buying from them is not for a lack of trying! I buy about 90% of my clothing online so I still comparison shop and check for better options which seem to be so elusive. Wayne buys about 50% online.

With that said, we moved  a lot of our business from Bean’s to Lands End. They make tall sizes and have many natural fiber options with a flattering fit. I don’t like potato sac chic for either of us. (Don’t get me started on Wayne’s “wardrobe” before he moved in!) We also like Brooks Brothers in Freeport. Wayne likes wearing Carhartt for working in the boatyard. Those brands have changed over the years just like Bean, but all things being equal in a challenging clothing landscape, they offer us better value and fit. It’s true we dress like boring people, though, since we both mostly wear classic clothing, but frumps we are not!

Back to L.L.Bean, I’ve recently softened somewhat as Lent approaches and my frustration with them has lessened. L.L.Bean is a significant employer here in Maine and also important for tourism. Personally I can’t see an issue with having too many Maine made Boat & Totes, either. They were invaluable when we had our wedding this summer since I used them to transport our favors. Although I have actual overnight bags I prefer using their totes. Picnics, organizing, beach trips, bringing donations to the secondhand store, they serve well.

This morning there was a package–turned out to be a wedding gift. Inside was a selection of beautiful handmade soaps, a candle and….a gift card to L.L.Bean! Guess where we’re going tomorrow?

*When Wayne and I went to our first coffee hour after the service at church this fall I met a man named Tom. THAT TOM. Of Maine!

Update 2/23: A couple of years ago Cole Haan, a Maine company, launched a limited made in Maine shoe collection. I wanted to buy a pair last year but they were out of my size. The collection is now gone, so they no longer have anything made in America let alone Maine.

Cole Haan Shoes No Longer Made in America

Despite this, Wayne and I were shocked to see that the Cole Haan outlet store in Freeport closed for good! They have been there at least since the 1990s.

Sign Shows Cole Haan Store in Freeport is Out of Business

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Wayne pointed out the irony of this book which speaks volumes!

LLBean

But we still have Boat & Totes!

LLBean Boat & Tote (3)L.L.Bean Boat & Tote Made in MaineLLBean Boat & Tote (2)

13 thoughts on “L.L.Bean: A New Beginning?

  1. Averyl: i suppose when they moved production to China they did not lower their prices, did they? Thought so.
    I don’t mind items being produced abroad – nothing wrong with things being produced in France, the UK, Finland or the US. Alright, you have to add shipping and handling but apart from that I’m fine with it. But countries like China, Vietnam, Bangla Desh, Malaysia with their poor record of safety, workers’ rights and wages – that’s an altogether different story. Apart from that: L.L. Bean is the epitome of “Maine” and “New England”, so you expect them to manufacture in New England or at least in the US – but certainly not in Vietnam! A bit like producing German “Lederhosen” in China – (which by the way is the case!).
    But these days even iconic British brands like “Barbour” or “Hunter” (wellie boots) have shifted their production to China and need I mention: retail prices have not been been lowered. And as far as I know none of the clothing you can buy from Marks & Spencer’s is produced in the UK anymore.
    Over here there is an old German make “Trigema”, to this day a family owned company producing underwear, T-shirts, sports apparel. One of the last textile companies to produce solely in Germany. They’re not exactly cheap and they’re not exactly “cool” either but yet to this day they have been profitable. The owner, Wolfgang Grupp, is quite a character, very outspoken and therefore well known in Germany. He still runs his company the old-fashioned way: he is personally liable right to the last cent. In other words: if the company goes bust so will he.
    And he once gave a rule of thumb: “Of course a company owner can move his production from Germany to Romania [which is the “Third World” of Europe]. But then have a close look where the owner lives. Is his mansion also in Romania?”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Uli! Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Also, thank you for helping me realize I should clarify that I welcome buying things abroad, too, provided they are well made in humane and fair conditions. I love my Lamy Safari fountain pens which so far appear to be made in Germany, still!

      Your point about pricing is spot on. Prices have not been lowered by L.L.Bean to match the quality. At least so far Land’s End’s quality and specs have been decent enough, comparatively speaking, and priced accordingly (everything is always 40% off, it seems). They also have a retro L.L.Bean-esque return policy: Return anything at any time. I haven’t needed to use it other than something was the wrong size.

      We went to the Barbour outlet last fall and not a single thing in it was made in the UK. I realize it’s an outlet, but still!

      Our “Maine” souvenirs made in China are the equivalent of the “German” Lederhosen also made there. Many years ago I had my own greeting card line which was printed on New England cotton Crane card stock (they make the paper for US money) with archival inks. The store owners/buyers, who had “Shop Local!” signs in view expected me to offer them made in China wholesale pricing. Most of their inventory was surely NOT locally made.

      I had never heard of Trigema and looking now, I love the clothing! Shipping is around $50 for me, but would consider it if I knew the correct sizing and how they fit me. That’s the challenge with hefty shipping/customs fees/return shipping. Lucky you that you can shop there and met the owner! Mr. Grupp could write a book on the clothing business and good character. It’s really comforting knowing that such companies as his still exist in this world and that people still shop there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My husband and I work for a store called the Wyoming Work Warehouse. Their customers are mostly oil/gas workers who need steel toed boots and fire retardant clothing, but you might want to look up some of their suppliers because these customers are always asking for American Made products.
    I know for sure the Wig Wam sock company sources wool from sheep ranchers within 200 miles of their factory, and all the socks are made here. They are so comfortable, and I want to say they have a lifetime guarantee. Darn Tough sock company does too.
    The Keen footwear company tries to source as much as they can from America and then make the shoes here. If they aren’t made here they are clearly labeled.
    Kühl is a clothing brand out of Utah that’s been around since the 80s. I’m pretty sure they work with their overseas manufacturing closely. I want to say one of the partners learned Chinese and moved over there. I’m pretty sure they source their fibers and fabrics from Europe to Japan.
    Also, they use the European sizing so their styles are much more slimming than other American clothing companies. Their pants are sewn together differently too so the inseam doesn’t have as much bulk.
    Hope one of those might be a good fit for you. ☺️
    Oh, and have you heard of Xero shoes?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing this information! You reminded me to mention a couple of other brands, too. Wig Wam looks like a great source for socks, especially winter. Lots of pretty designs! I buy 98% cotton socks (a blend very hard to find) from Maggies, made in in North Carolina. Wayne wears US made Red Wing boots. I bookmarked Keen’s made in the USA boots (https://www.keenfootwear.com/search/?q=made%20in%20usa&start=0&sz=36#tile-0). I had not heard of Xero shoes. We both need good foot support (aka old people shoes, ha) so minimalist shoes aren’t an option for us.

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      1. Thanks. I’m going to check out Maggie’s, and tell my boss.
        I needed arch support too until I read Born To Run, and started the Gokhale Method for posture. Now I have a hard time wearing padded shoes. 😂 The Gokhale method doesn’t recommend giving up arch supportive footwear, but has fabulous advice for foot placement and exercise.
        (You know what? I don’t even know if Xero Shoes is made in America. I saw their clip on Shark Tank, and liked the owners response to the sharks. ☺️)

        Liked by 2 people

  3. After watching the documentary, True Cost, a few years ago (I watched it on Netflix; we no longer choose to pay for that *service* and now get all of our print and media from the local library) I have stopped buying NEW clothing, especially fast fashion, instead choosing to buy secondhand clothes that are already in the waste stream.
    Newly made fashion is second in pollution only to big oil companies (https://www.ecowatch.com/fast-fashion-is-the-second-dirtiest-industry-in-the-world-next-to-big–1882083445.html) and most of what is produced even by companies we don’t readily associate with the cheaply made fast fashion brands, still isn’t produced ethically, at fair wages, in safe conditions or anywhere near the source where we make purchases- so the fuel used and pollution caused by shipping these items around the globe are also part of the problem.
    I realize secondhand clothing isn’t a practical solution for everyone, in every circumstance, but I challenge folks to at least be open to sourcing new-to-you- items that way first!!
    Now, I am a lover of fashion! I sure don’t want to wear unflattering clothing made out of old grocery bags in order to save the planet, but I am continually amazed at the gently used, if not brand new, clothing, shoes and handbags I find at thrift & consignment stores. I rarely spend more than $10 per month on clothes & shoes and feel entirely spoiled to have a far more curated wardrobe with much nicer brands, buying used, than I ever did buying new.

    Just my two penny-pinching cents…

    ** I am staying broken up with LL Bean! The last purchase we made from Bean was a pair men’s slippers three years ago- they practically disintegrated within three months of normal inside wear. I called and was assured by customer service that they would replace them for free. I immediately shipped the slippers back and then received a call from customer service saying they wouldn’t be able to refund or replace the item. No further details given. They have lost us as customers for good. **

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish buying mostly second-hand clothing was an option for us but Wayne has long arms (sleeves are often too short) and I have long torso/legs (shirts too short, inseams not long enough, rise too low) so finding our size NEW is hard enough. I’ve purchased a lot of second-hand vintage clothing that I loved, but my arms never grew shorter. I’m not being snarky, being totally serious: I had a never worn Pendleton coat from the 1960s that was so perfect for me, except the sleeves. I guess I thought maybe I’d shrink a little as I got older but I finally sold it. Having said that, my house has had few renovations since the 1950s when it was built and it’s filled with about 75% second-hand vintage.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get it- my arms are a thing of pure humor. My height is all in my torso and my legs are long, but not overly. I’m 5’8 and weigh 135 (most days) but all the weight seems to settle “behind me”
        Coats are the toughest for me. If the arms fit, it probably a men’s XL. ha! I have found a few brands that work and others that work with the help of a good local tailor! Vintage Brooks Brothers and Bean work well for the Mr., so I snap those shirts up. We haven’t needed to replace his suits or shoes yet (glad we went for quality over cost many moons ago) and have had his shoes cobbled as needed. I’m sure the time will come and we will make our best possible choices at that point. Same here- we have a late 60’s house now. Nothing much new except for the paint and light fixtures (the previous owners did most of those which breaks my vintage heart) and appliances that, sadly, needed to be upgraded. The counter tops have seen better days, but I can’t bring myself to let them go just yet…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wayne had a lot of great old L.L.Bean and other clothing that was made in the US but after he lost a lot of weight he needed a new wardrobe, although he still has some old chamois shirts that he wears over layers.

          Liked by 1 person

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