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. Picnics, organizing, beach trips, overnight bags, bringing donations to the secondhand store, returning milk bottles–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.
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.
Wayne pointed out the irony of this “America’s Story” book “made in China” which speaks volumes!
But we still have Boat & Totes!