J.Crew Turnaround Depending on Product, Store Experience, Experts Say

  • J.Crew began a comeback after filing bankruptcy in the first months of the pandemic.
  • The brand’s new design talent and concept store have received a lot of attention in recent months.
  • However, hype alone is not enough. Experts say that the stores and products needed to be redesigned and that the brand is now on track.

You wouldn’t have known it was a J.Crew if it wasn’t for the sign at the door. 

The entrance features a chic coffee bar, inviting you to have a cup of macchiato while you shop. Slim brass clothing racks showcase striped rugby shirts as well as Irish wool coats. The canoe suspended from a ceiling is a reminder that you are in the most chic mid-century boathouse in the world, with leather chairs and plush rug. 

The store, which is located in New York City’s Bowery, is a J.Crew concept shop. It’s part of a wider effort by the brand for change.

J.Crew lost customers to fast-fashion brands offering trendier items at lower prices after its late-aughts glory days. J.Crew was a quick casualty of the pandemic. filing for bankruptcyLater taking on new owners, a hedge funds that provided the cash and the time needed to get back on the right track. 

J.Crew has since placed a new CEO at the helm — Libby Wadle, who previously oversaw J.Crew’s fast-growing sister brand, Madewell. It also hired fresh creative talent: Brendon Babenzien – an alum of streetwear brand Supreme and founder of menswear retailer Noah – on the men’s side, and J.Crew veteran Olympia Gayot on the women’s and kid’s side. Babenzien and their rise to stardom have made them stars on their own. GQ and Fast Company Gayot’s sense of style worshipped on TikTok and chronicled in Vogue.

All these changes have netted J.Crew a lot of attention, but is hype enough to steer the brand into the future? Industry experts broke down the main issues standing in the way of a turnaround — in short, outdated store looks waning consumer interest — and the signs that show the retailer is mounting a comeback.

J.Crew’s spokesperson declined to comment on this story.

Moving beyond the ‘cornucopia product’

Inside of J.Crew store with long racks of colorful clothes visible

Most of J.Crew’s stores feel unchanged from a decade ago, according to NYU marketing professor Thomaï Serdari.

Avery Hartmans/Insider

The pandemic may have shifted the balance of shoppers from in stores to online, but physical retail still has its place — at J.Crew, 70% of the brand’s sales are online, but the brand still plans to invest in brick-and-mortar locations, Wadle, the company’s CEO, told The Wall Street JournalJuly 

Modern store designs like the New York City concept shop are still the exception — walking into a standard J.Crew store in 2022 feels basically unchanged from a decade or even two decades ago, according to Thomaï Serdari, a marketing professor and the director of the fashion and luxury MBA program at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Serdari said that “the idea of stacking up tons, tons, and tons of sweaters onto these large piles of J.Crew sweaters is not the most exciting experience.” He described the current shopping experience at J.Crew as “one step above an outlet.” 

A post shared by J.Crew Men’s @jcrewmens

Lee Peterson is a long-standing merchant and is now the executive Vice President of Though Leadership at WD Partners. He echoed the sentiment that J.Crew should reduce the “cornucopia product when you walk into” and urged fewer, more quality stores. 

The brand is already on target in that regard: The company had 281 physical retail stores five years ago — today it has 127. The next step is to replicate the New York men’s store, which he described in New York as a showroom, and expand it into other markets. 

He said, “It’s lower labor, it has a lower build-out cost, and it requires less maintenance.” “You don’t also need as much inventory, which means that it costs less. It doesn’t make sense to have all that inventory in 500 stores. 

A style sweet spot between luxury fashion and fast-fashion 

Close-up photo of J.Crew tag inside blue denim shirt

Under Vincent Quan, FIT’s new design leader, J.Crew is now focusing on high-quality garments.

Avery Hartmans/Insider

Vincent Quan (chair of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Korea Campus’s Fashion Business Management department) says that store experience is still more important than product quality.

Quan stated that product is the most important aspect of our industry. “You can have the best website and infrastructure, but if the product isn’t right or the consumer is shying away from it, you have a major problem.”

J.Crew customers had been avoiding J.Crew even before the pandemic. In the 2010s, J.Crew customers started complaining. fit and quality had gone downhillBut prices remained high. Quan blamed it on cost pressures, which led both designers and executives to become cautious.

He stated, “All of a suddenly, you’re repeating the same thing over an and over again.” “The consumers moved on to other brands, fast fashion being one of them. They lost their mojo.” 

J Crew sweaters

Retail experts say that the brand seems to be using high-end fabrics such as cashmere more often.

Ann Matica/Insider

J.Crew seems to be trying to regain some of that mojo. It’s adding more premium fabrics like Harris Tweed, moleskin and cashmere to its product range and digging into its archives to reinvent the classics. Quan credited Babenzien with refocusing on quality — “I don’t remember a Supreme sweatshirt falling apart,” he said — and said Gayot has the DNA behind the brand’s earlier success fully ingrained thanks to her tenure under former creative director Jenna Lyons

Serdari from NYU noted that there are signs the brand is being creative in sourcing materials and collaborating US manufacturers. A barn jacketShe noticed the J.Crew catalogue because it was made in collaboration to a Tennessee-based company that used to supply US military uniforms. J.Crew could be a good fit for pieces that are both utilitarian and have a point to view, especially considering the brand’s mid-tier pricing, which is somewhere between luxury fashion and fast-fashion.

Quan expressed cautious optimism, saying that product improvements indicate that the brand is on a good track. 

He said, “Once their stride is established, it will be exponential.” “Keep an eye out for them.” 

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