When Indeed, L.L. Bean

A few weeks ago, on YouTube, L.L. Bean came out with a new ad.

In this video, it poses an interesting tandem of questions: “When did we stop valuing things that get better over time? When did disposable become our default?”

Well, L.L. Bean, we have an answer.

It was about the time when companies like L.L. Bean started outsourcing in earnest. When those companies curtailed their investment in American workers, American communities and American prosperity. When greed and corporate profit became an all-consuming pursuit, to the detriment of good corporate citizenship.

The video features a couple of Bean products being made: the Bean Boot (formerly the Maine Hunting Shoe) and the canvas tote.  These are two of the most prominent among the dwindling range of U.S. made products L.L. Bean sells.

Why, I wonder, did Bean not show workers in Bangladesh, in Vietnam, in China making “things that get better over time”? Are those workers (who make the overwhelming majority of Bean’s offerings) not deserving of being featured? Perhaps if we saw the conditions in which they toil, we wouldn’t be so inclined to purchase Bean’s products.

Most companies who have abdicated their American roots in such a profound way deserve to find themselves relegated to the graveyard of corporate history, to be replaced by companies who have, all along, maintained an unwavering commitment to American production. The Western Mountaineerings, the High Cottons, the Nanette Lapores and the New England Shirt Companies of this world.

But L.L. Bean presents an interesting case.

All of us who have an affinity for classic American style know that L.L. Bean is one of the foundational suppliers of that look. Those of us who embrace the twin values of American style and American manufacturing have a vested interest in seeing L.L. Bean reformed.

But after this much time, can the genie of outsourcing be put back in the bottle? Over the past few years, Bean has occasionally dipped its toe back into the waters of American manufacturing. Sterlingwear pea coats. New England Shirt Company shirts. New Balance running shoes.

But these represent a small fraction of Bean’s total product line. And they appear to be only intermittent in their availability.

I’ve recently purchased khaki trousers from Jack Donnelly, a chamois shirt from Criquet Shirts, a pair of penny loafers from Rancourt and a sports shirt from the New England Shirt Company. A generation ago, I would have considered Bean for each of those items. But no longer–and never again until Bean brings production of said items back to these shores.

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