What a difference a month makes.
In February, Brooks Brothers Inc. found itself embroiled in trademark dispute with Warren Buffett-owned Brooks Sports Inc. By late March the men’s clothing company, which was founded on April 7, 1818, was preparing to switch from making suits and ties to personal protective masks for medical professionals working to stop the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
Rachel Barnett, a former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom associate who joined New York-based Brooks Brothers last year as general counsel, told Bloomberg Law that the transition has not been easy.
“I have worked more during the coronavirus crisis than I have in my legal life—and that compares to working at Skadden during the early 2000s when expedited merger litigation was occurring on a weekly basis,” Barnett said.
Barnett said navigating that new territory requires a full-time commitment, often involving government relations and approvals to supplier and distribution discussions.
With Brooks Brothers’ stores and factories temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the company has joined others like shoemaker Allen Edmonds Corp., women’s clothing designer Eileen Fisher Inc., and outdoor apparel and recreation equipment retailer LL Bean Inc. in moving their manufacturing efforts into personal protective equipment.
Asked how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the retail and apparel industry at large, Barnett shared with Bloomberg Law the following bullet points, which have been edited for style and clarity:
- Stores are being closed throughout the country as a result of the coronavirus, leading to an increased focus on labor and employment issues.
- Retail revenues from stores have consequently ground to a halt, leading to immediate strategic financial planning and communications with landlords.
- There is added pressure on those overseeing legal budgets for companies needing more legal resources at a time when they’re already coping with abrupt revenue declines that don’t allow for such an increase. Creativity and partnership with outside law firms—with a focus on long-term relationships—is critical.
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