J. Crew, TJ Maxx’s hottest new brand

J. Crew at Cherry Creek Mall, Denver, CO.

J. Crew at Cherry Creek Mall, Denver, CO. Photo taken by Savannah C. 

J. Crew has been populating news outlets such as Bloomberg news and the Washington Post for the past few months, most recently for laying off 175 corporate headquarters employees.  The cuts are one of the latest modifications in an effort to revive the company after J. Crew had one of its lowest revenue producing years since the company was established in 1983.  (Link to business insider).  J. Crew customers are so upset by the retailer’s poor quality merchandise and inconsistent sizes at such high price points that loyal customers have began to abstain from buying the brand, causing excess items to be sold in discount stores like TJ Maxx.

In addition to laying off 175 employees at the company’s New York City headquarters, CEO, Mickey Drexler decided to promote Somsack Sikhounmuong as the new Head of Women’s Design in June 2015.  Formerly, Tom Mora’s position, Sikhounmuong has two years experience as Madewell’s, J. Crew’s sister store, Head of Design and will work under President and Executive Creative Director, Jenna Lyons.  Drexler hopes that “…with Somsack in his new role…we will focus on making critical improvements to our J.Crew women’s assortment including fit, design aesthetic and styling” (Millard Drexel, PR Newswire).

After J. Crew facing a total net loss of $607.8 million in 2014 sales and their sister store, Madewell increased sales by 33% , it seems only logical that Drexler envisioned Sikhounmuong as the next feasible Head of Women’s Design.  Joyce Lee is set to become the new Head of Design at Madewell.  Lee formerly worked with Madewell’s senior design team for seven years and previously with Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors.  Drexler is hopeful that by hiring Sikhounmuong, he will help them get through “‘…some missteps over the last year and we are working hard to course correct’” (Holmes, Wall Street Journal).

Many J. Crew customers and fashion bloggers such as Abra Belke (AKA Belle) of Capitol Hill Style blame creative director Jenna Lyons to be the reason for the increase in trendy merchandise and prices alike.  Lyons, hired in 2008 has been known for her efforts to propel J. Crew to “designer brand” status, often appears on many fashion blogs and instagram accounts being praised as a trendsetter, most notably for her ability to blend sophisticated chic with trendy, street style.  However, many are naming Lyon’s eccentric style as the reason for J. Crew’s “identity crisis,” writes Belke.

Some styles currently being featured at Cherry Creek Mall J. Crew.  Photo taken by Savannah C.

Some styles currently being featured at Cherry Creek Mall J. Crew. Photo taken by Savannah C.

J. Crew has always been known for their preppiness which includes timeless pieces such as khaki pants, button downs, blazers, cashmere cardigans and simple ballet flats.  However, over the past few years customers claim J. Crew has strayed from its “classics” style to embody a high-end fashion line that features neon-colored cashmere sweaters and feathered skirts that costs upwards of $500.  Not only are these pieces considered expensive, but seasonal and poor quality.  Writer, Tricia Louvar calculated the cost of an “everyday” J. Crew outfit to be $596…”the equivalent of 298 school lunches” (Horne-Grose, New York Post). Louvar says she would go elsewhere to buy clothes at this price point with longer lasting guarantee, such as a name brand dress with higher quality techniques and fabrics.

Emily Dodge of Denver, CO seemed to express similar ideas to Louvar stating, “…if people want those cheaper, trendy clothes, they will go to stores like Forever 21.”  Dodge had stopped by J. Crew after work only to walk out a few minutes later empty-handed, “I was looking for something timeless and the prices were discouraging” she said when asked why she made no purchases.

Emily Dodge of Denver, CO. Photo taken by Savannah C.

However, many J. Crew customers are unaware of the corporate changes and people like Maddy Taylor, Nordstrom sales associate, believe that “…customers who are unaware of changes at a higher level within the company are not likely to change their shopping habits.”

This is not the first time J. Crew has been in financial trouble and lost a substantial amount of loyal customers. In 1998, the company took a huge hit after being partially purchased by a Texas based investor and a UPS strike, driving “same-store sales down 13.6%” (Steinhauer, The New York Times).  The company struggled to get back on its feet until 2003 when it hired Millard Drexler as the CEO who brought the company up from “$700 million to $1.7 billion in revenue within a decade” (Groth & Aquino, Business Insider).  J. Crew accredited its increase in profits to the hiring of Millard as well as 10% corporate cuts and a decrease in merchandise prices.

No stranger to rebuilding struggling companies, Drexler helped Ann Taylor increase their sales “exponentially” and made the Gap a billion dollar company in 1999 when both companies were having trouble producing revenue.

Today the privately owned company incorporates 280 J. Crew retail stores, 139 J. Crew Factory stores and 85 Madewell stores; but this time around, J. Crew is attempting to solve their financial and customer relations issues with a tested solution: a lower price point clothing store.  Drexler hopes that a new line will attract a different genre of customers, perhaps younger, and generate buzz that will carry over to regular J. Crew retail stores.  Drexler had success with this theory when he established Old Navy as a lower-priced Gap in 1994.

Rather than go the “athleisure” route, clothing that doubles as workout gear and leisure wear, like Lululemons and the Gap, J. Crew has decided to focus on bringing back its basics and using Sikhounmuong’s fresh perspective.  Erika Anderson of Ohio believes that some of Sikhounmuong’s “trendy” styles at Madewell will now influence styles at J. Crew retail.

Drexler and the design team at J. Crew are determined to ensure that the store does not become known as “fast fashion,” styles that are only in fashion for a short period of time.  Stores considered “fast fashion” are Forever 21, Target or H+M.

Current styles at Cherry Creek Mall Forever 21

Current styles at Cherry Creek Mall Forever 21

As for the future of J. Crew, “as long as they have classics, they will always have customers” says Dodge.  With the creation of a new store, Drexler hopes the company’s overall revenue will increase.  The recent 10% cut in corporate positions will save an estimated $17 million that the company will use to fulfill their promise of returning to basics and using better quality materials.

After hearing about J. Crew’s recent corporate cuts and design team changes, Erika and Ryan Anderson said they will both still continue to shop at J. Crew, but that you probably would not find

"Hey, I think my shirt is J. Crew!" Ryan Anderson with wife Erika Anderson of Ohio. Photo taken by Savannah C.

“Hey, I think my shirt is J. Crew!” Ryan Anderson with wife Erika Anderson of Ohio. Photo taken by Savannah C.

them in J. Crew’s new store because a lower price point probably means, “…poor quality clothing.”  In the meantime, those looking for XXS or 00 J. Crew sized clothing can head to TJ Maxx where their merchandising will be filtering through for the next few months.

J. Crew retail store employees refused to comment and corporate employees could not be reached to speak about recent changes.

 

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