J. Crew CEO Says It Was A “Big Mistake” To Bank On Elitist Image

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As J. Crew struggles to compete in today’s tough retail world and avoid going bankrupt like so many other brands, the company’s CEO is admitting that he wasn’t quite prepared for how its high-priced image would fail to lure customers amid competition from fast fashion retailers with cheaper clothing..

“I’ve never seen the speed of change as it is today,” Mickey Drexler told The Wall Street Journal. “If I could go back 10 years, I might have done some things earlier.”

Drexler’s success at J. Crew — as well as his previous job at Gap — relied on his skill at predicting what would be fashionable a year in advance, because it took about that long to design and produce clothing back then, notes the WSJ.

But with the dawn of fast fashion and competition from brands with speedy supply chains like Zara, J. Crew is lagging behind: Sales at stores open at least a year have gone down for the last 10 quarters, and the company is carrying about $2 billion in debt.

And while J. Crew did sell clothing online earlier than some of its rivals, the WSJ points out that Drexler’s focus on things like the feel of an item’s fabric or the weight of its buttons — which allowed the company to charge higher prices — doesn’t quite translate in today’s e-commerce environment, where there are seemingly unlimited options at lower prices.

Because Drexler doesn’t have a time machine to go back and change anything, he says the company will be expanding its supply base to keep up with the Zaras of the industry. J. Crew also recently eliminated 250 jobs in a cost-cutting effort, and parted ways with its longtime creative director Jenna Lyons in April.

Lyons was the mastermind of the J. Crew Collection, which was launched at the height of the recession in 2008, and featured expensive items like $800 skirts and $1,900 sweaters, points out the WSJ. Not exactly what a price-conscious shopper is looking for when they’re struggling to pay the bills.

Drexler now admits that the company had a bit of an “elitist attitude,” which he wants to change.

“We gave a perception of being a higher-priced company than we were — in our catalog, online, and in our general presentation,” he said. “Very big mistake.”