Dear Millard Drexler & Co.,
While I am sure that you and your team are busier than ever given earnings, recent press and the opening of J.Crew Mercantile, I’m crossing my fingers that by power of the internet, this might make it to you. My name is Eliza and I’m here to get J.Crew back to what and where it used to be: a mainstay and epicenter of both my closet and the fashion world.
You might be wondering what gives me the experience required to provide consulting to a retail corporation like J.Crew. The answer is, on paper, absolutely nothing. As a digital marketing professional and millennial in her late twenties, my reason for writing is quite simple...I miss the old J.Crew and I need it back in my life.
In March 2015, Mr. Drexler, you outlined your plans to save a struggling J.Crew. These plans relied heavily on the success of the Madewell brand, J.Crew outlets and international expansion. While focusing on these areas of the business will certainly provide cushion to bottom line, I think that the lasting success of the J.Crew brand comes from its core business—the business that you revived in 2002 and turned into a fashion icon.
You might not know it, but you actually miss me too. Between 2009-2012, I shopped at J.Crew, J.Crew Outlet, and both online stores, 3 times per fiscal quarter on average (spending approximately $150 dollars per visit). From 2013 to present, that number has decreased to merely once a quarter, limited to the outlet stores, and averaging at around $50 per visit.
With that as backdrop and with hopes of J.Crew returning to its glory days, I hope you will take into consideration the following roadmap:
Get Back to Your Roots
I have relied on J.Crew for as long as I can remember and across developmental stages. While attending private school in the northeast, J.Crew’s crisp and colorful pieces allowed me to express myself, despite a strict and “boring” dress code. What was even more important, especially for a teen at that time, was that the quality, craftsmanship and clean lines of your togs made cornflower blue cardigans and maroon corduroy fit as well on my 5-foot and athletic frame as they did on the models in your catalogs.
As the fast-fashion boom exploded while I was in college in 2007, I found myself experimenting with different “hipper” styles. Bi-monthly trips to Forever21 and H&M had me wearing different dresses everyday— dresses that were lucky to make it intact through a whole semester. In 2009, when I decided to bring my style back to its New England roots, J.Crew was there. Within one trip to the store, I felt grounded with my fashion again. By 2011, J.Crew was the only catalog that would not get thrown immediately into the trash with other junk mail. Yes, I actually READ catalogs! (Or yours, at least.)
But here we are in 2015 and something has been lost in translation with the brand. Your silhouettes are distorted. Your colors are muted. You are distracted by off-brand collaborations.
Of course, styles change and designers need to be cognizant of current trends. But J.Crew’s previous success so often has been attributed to its designer’s ability to infuse lines with traces of modern fashion, rather than have trends be the focal point of pieces.
Tread Lightly with Madewell Influences
Ah, Madewell. J. Crew’s current beautiful stepchild (logging a 33% increase in sales over the past year). Given Madewell’s success, I totally understand the strategy behind recent appointment of their former Head of Design, Somsack Sikhounmuong to lead design at J.Crew. Sikhounmuong is unbelievably talented and I am sure that his presence will be a positive one.
However, it’s important to underscore that Madewell is not J.Crew. Madewell’s success has been driven by a subset of millennials erring on the hip side. And what I hope brands experiencing slumping sales in the past quarter have learned, is that hip doesn’t always have staying power. Sikhounmuong’s ultimate success will be contingent on his ability to weave the effortlessly hip influences that drove success at Madewell into that which is classic.
Get Rid of Luxury Collaborations
In order to get J.Crew back to its North Star, I would recommend leaving these by the wayside for a while. The last thing that you want when trying to woo your customers back is to distract them away from the brand and to request an arm and a leg in the process. These collaborations, which have historically also been off silhouette, sometimes cost up to $500 and are simply put, irritating.
While there is no exact formula for a successful collaborative line, it seems intuitive that the substrate brand should be top-of-mind for customers before testing collaboration waters.
Do Not Get Distracted by Other Brands
As you already know, you’re not alone in your struggles right now. Your competition also has been battling identity issues. Gap Inc., which recently announced the closure of hundreds of their retail shops, is being kept afloat by the success of Old Navy. While Old Navy is arguably fast-fashion, I argue that it is not the fashion that is buoying the company, but rather the poor performance of the Gap and Banana Republic subsidiaries influencing shoppers to look elsewhere. Both Gap and Banana Republic used to be commonplace in my closet as well. However, given muted palettes, odd silhouettes and an increasing lack of brand identity, my online shopping carts have remained barren.
In my opinion, these brand’s struggles are the result of placing too strong of an emphasis on aligning the brand (both identity and seasonal lines) with the fickle tastes of millennials. Unfortunately, J.Crew has also put this emphasis on its brand as well. But there is hope! J.Crew’s identity, prior to recent quarters, was built on an ideal that is, in many ways, the antithesis of millennials – consistency. Consistency in style, quality, design and silhouette.
So please take everything that I have said above with about 7 grains of salt. I do not have a degree in finance or fashion merchandising, nor have I worked in the retail sphere. The only thing I can say for certain is that I miss the excitement of walking into J.Crew with the assuredness that I will find something I love. I miss that J.Crew’s color selection would allow me to use pieces either as a basic or as a statement.
And I need you back.