Judging a look by its cover: Dumbo retailer hawks bogus ‘Made in Brooklyn’ gear

Judging a look by its cover: Dumbo retailer hawks bogus ‘Made in Brooklyn’ gear
Community News Group / Ruth Brown

Made in where, now?!

The Dumbo home-furnishing store West Elm, mother ship of an international chain, is hawking a line of Brooklyn swag in its online and brick-and-mortar outlets that includes hats, growlers, and T-shirts bearing the phrase “Made in Brooklyn.”

The “Made in Brooklyn Market Beanie” is certainly artisanally priced at a cool $24, $8 more than a comparable American Apparel cap. A description in the online store reads:

“Rep the city where it all began with our classic, cuffed Market Beanie featuring our exclusive Made In Brooklyn logo.”

Though we don’t often refer to Brooklyn as a city, we at The Brooklyn Paper are as against the Mistake of 1898 — the incorporation of the city of Brookyln into New York City — as anybody. But closer inspection of the head-warmer reveals that not only is it not made in Brooklyn — it is not made in the United States.

The online store describes it as “imported.”

The tag on the actual item is more descriptive:

“Made in China”

The borough’s leading business booster said he is hardly surprised a national retailer would cash on Kings County’s cachet.

“As we already know, the Brooklyn brand is hot, not just here in Brooklyn, but across the world — including in China,” said Carlo Scissura, president of the Chamber of Commerce.

The damning evidence
Community News Group / Ruth Brown

Scissura’s group rolled out a certification program called “Brooklyn Made” earlier this year as a way to weed out Kings County posers and to make sure real Brooklyn companies get the credit they are due.

“The Chamber continues to believe ‘Brooklyn Made’ truly means Made in Brooklyn,” Scissura said.

The growler and shirt are made elsewhere in the United States, a West Elm spokeswoman confirmed, and sell for $15 and $29 respectively. The Dumbo store sold out of the items during the holidays, and the online store no longer has any growlers, but the rest remain available on the web.

The spokeswoman refused to acknowledge that the logo, which sandwiches the phrase “Made in Brooklyn,” with “Brooklyn” in cursive, between two old-timey arrows, could lead buyers to believe that the products are actually made in Brooklyn. She posed instead that the slogan is meant to describe what is inside each container.

“The messaging on these specific pieces was designed to be a fun nod to the potential contents,” said Abigail Jacobs, a vice president for brand marketing with the company. “You can fill the growler with lager from Brooklyn Brewery, and the shirt and hat refer to the person wearing them.”

West Elm plays its Brooklyn bona fides big online, touting itself in the “About Us” section of its website as “Born in Brooklyn. At Home in the World.” The company’s blog is named “Front + Main,” after the intersection where the original store sits, around the corner from a second location that sells home goods and kitchenware. And the company is set to lease space in the Empire Stores building, which is currently being redeveloped.It is true that the chain was founded in Dumbo in 2002, but the founding was done by home-furnishing and kitchenware giant Williams-Sonoma, the parent company of five brands and 603 stores internationally, with headquarters in San Francisco.

Nevertheless, Scissura said he has no hard feelings toward the retailer, in part because it supports Brooklyn’s annual design expo.

“West Elm is a great friend and partner, and a big supporter of BKLYN DESIGNS,” he said.

West Elm is not currently selling any items that bear the phrase “Made in China,” but given that there are 3.8 million Americans of Chinese descent, and 1.3 billion people in China, there is probably a market for them. And the fashion incubator the city is creating in Industry City would be the perfect place to make them. Just an idea.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
The shirt, made elsewhere in USA.