Does L.L. Bean keep it Made in America?

By Anonymous
Jun 23 2011 |
Those iconic boots.

How American-made is all-American L.L. Bean?

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Since this post was originally published there's been more news about the American outdoor gear company. 
August 2011: Bean Boots are still made in America.
For more American made fashion, visit our Fashion Friday blog. 

We’ve blogged before about the lack of American-made goods at large chain retailers like Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target. But how does a store like L.L. Bean — a company that prides itself on selling “American” goods measure up?

Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) Field Coordinator Dan Lawson decided to hit the shelves of L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport, ME to find out. Here is his report:

On a recent trip to town, I decided to check in at L.L. Bean to see just how much of the products they are selling are still Manufactured in either Maine or the good old U.S.A.

But first, a brief History of L.L. Bean, the man, the legend:

In 1911 an avid outdoorsman named Leon Leonwood (L.L.) Bean returned from a hunting trip with cold, damp feet and a revolutionary idea. He enlisted a local cobbler to stitch supple leather uppers to waterproof rubber boots, creating a comfortable, functional boot for exploring the Maine woods. This ingenious invention – the Maine Hunting Shoe – changed outdoor footwear forever and, a year later, began one of the most successful family-run businesses in the country.

The first Maine Hunting Shoes were sold exclusively via mail order. A 1912 flyer proclaimed: "You cannot expect success hunting deer or moose if your feet are not properly dressed. The Maine Hunting Shoe is designed by a hunter who has tramped the Maine woods for the last 18 years. We guarantee them to give perfect satisfaction in every way." To this day L.L.Bean backs its products with the same quality guarantee.

By the time Model Ts were rolling along the streets of Freeport, L.L.'s three-page fliers had become thick catalogs full of field-tested gear, all-weather outerwear and men's and women's clothing "designed for comfort as well as style." Besides doing brisk mail-order business, L.L. began selling direct to retail customers, attracting customers from around the world to his flagship store in downtown Freeport.Although almost 100 years have passed since L.L. Bean began, its guiding principleshave remained the same: an unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction and a firm belief in the value of authenticity.

Now for a little of my early experience with L.L. Bean: They are an icon here in Maine, and sell everything from Hunting Boots to Flannel Shirts and book bags for students. I had purchased some items from the L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine, mostly as gift for friends and relatives back in the early 90’s. 

When my daughter was in Junior high it was brought to my attention that she required a L.L. Bean Book Bag to lug her books and whatever else it would hold back and forth to school. It had to be green with white monogram initials (school colors a must). It was $24.99, in 1997, kind of pricey back in the day. It came with a 100 percent guarantee. I called her and asked if she still has it, not only does she still have it–she's still is using it. Pretty impressive, 14 years of use and still going. My next question was does it say where it was made? She looked and said, "Made in the U.S.A."

Well, I was feeling really good at this point, and was looking forward to my trip to the store to do some investigating and find out where their products are made now.  The Results are listed below:

  • Old Town Canoes, many models and styles, Made in Old Town, Maine (off to a good start)
  • Aqua Bound Kayak paddles, Made in the U.S.A.
  • Harmony Kayak paddles, Made in the U.S.A. 
  • L.L. Bean Urban Backpack, Made in the U.S.A. 
  • Multi-Sport Drystuff sack, Made in the U.S.A.  
  • Watersport Wear Windbreaker, Made in the U.S.A.
  •  L.L. Bean classic Logo T-shirt, Made in China
  • L.L. Bean Stowaway Backpack, Made in Viet Nam
  • L.L. Bean Lady’s Backpack, Made in Viet Nam
  • L.L. Bean Mens Knit Shirts, Made in China
  • L.L. Bean Hooded Logo Sweatshirts, Made in India
  • L.L. Bean Boat and Tote Bag, Made in the U.S.A. 
  • L.L. Bean Aluminum Bottle Canteens, Made in China
  • L.L. Bean Ditty Sack, Made in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. 
  • L.L. Bean Infinity Jugs, Made in China  
  • Big Agnes Sleep Bags, Made in China
  • Gunn Creek Sleeping Bags, Made in China
  • Summit Sleeping Bags, Made in China
  • Life Preservers, Men’s, Women’s and Child’s all Made in China
  • L.L. Bean Helix Fishing Waders, Made in China
  • L.L. Bean Fishing Shoes, Made in China
  • L.L. Bean Flannel Shirts, Made in Viet Nam
  • L.L. Bean Tassel Loafers, Made in El Salvador
  • L.L. Bean Men’s Chino Pants, Made in India, and China
  • L.L. Bean Logo Flip Flops, Made in China
  • L.L. Bean Dockers Shoes, Made in China
  • L.L. Bean Men’s Boxer Shorts, Made in Sri Lanka
  • Over 40 Different Men’s Style and Brands of Socks, All Made in the U.S.A.
  • L.L. Bean Towels and Facecloths, Made in Turkey
  • L.L. Bean Large Duffel Bags, Made in China
  • Classic Maine Adirondack Double Wooden Rocker, Made in Viet Nam
  • L.L. Bean Women’s Coats, Made in Bangladesh 
  • L.L. Bean Women’s Fleece Jackets, Made in El Salvador
  • L.L. Bean Women’s Raincoat, Made in China
  • L.L. Bean Men’s Blazer, Made in Viet Nam 
  • L.L. Bean Women’s Jeans, Made in Mexico
  • L.L. Bean Runabout Classic Cruiser Bike, Made In China and priced at $319.00
  • Fly rods, found a few Made in the U.S.A.
  • Fly Reels, All were Made in Korea 
  • L.L. Bean Soy Candles, Made in the U.S.A.
  • L.L. Bean Moisturizing Lotion, Made in the U.S.A.

The last item I searched out was the infamous L.L. Bean Student Monogrammed Book Bag, it took me a while to find the same label on the inside, much to my dismay is now Made in Viet Nam.

My Daughter Kim was very interested in the results of my visit to the store. She took it to the next level and wrote to L.L. Bean:

Kim Lawson to L.L. Bean: When people think of Maine, they think of a few things, including L.L. Bean…so, why are your backpacks (among many other items) made in China? I understand, maybe not being made in Maine, but not in the USA? As a resident of Maine, I feel kind of betrayed. It's not like you guys are Wal-Mart, and are known for being a sleazy company, and your stuff is not inexpensive by any means. If they're being made in China, they should be a lot less expensive, considering how much you're saving on labor.

L.L. Bean to Kim Lawson: Hi Kimberly – Thank you for sharing your comments with us. We source our products from all across the globe including the US. We are one of the last US multi-channel merchants to still own and operate a manufacturing facility right here in Brunswick, Maine where we make out iconic products such as the Bean Boot, Maine Hunting Shoe, dog beds, Boat and Totes, leather belts, and more. Our goal is to provide quality products while still offering value — all with our 100% satisfaction guarantee and always shipped free.

Photo by Flickr user redjar.