Dear J. Crew by @EHolmesWSJ

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{A photo of me wearing a J. Crew top from 2012 which was featured in the Wall Street Journal}

About a month ago, Elizabeth Holmes with the Wall Street Journal reached out to me to weigh in on an article she was working on regarding J. Crew. It was great to work with her and the article hit the stands on May 26 and was picked up by the Today Show a few days after. For those of you that don’t get the WSJ or hit pay walls, I have included the text from the article below.

Dear J.Crew, What Happened to Us? We Used to Be So Close; Many women lament changes at the brand, highlighting a rare retail loyalty The Wall Street Journal Online, By Elizabeth Holmes, Tuesday, 26 May 2015, 17:39 GMT, 1546 Words, Copyright 2015 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

For many women, it’s been a disappointing spring to shop.

That’s because their beloved J.Crew, once their go-to spot to find the perfect shift dress for the office, striped T-shirt for the weekend and bathing suit for the beach, is often letting them down. Their complaints about head-scratching styling, poor garment construction and fabric quality, and inconsistent sizing have popped up online and on social media. J.Crew itself has acknowledged it has problems with its women’s clothing and says it is trying to fix them.

 Apparel brands come and go. Few boast shoppers as emotionally involved as J.Crew’s. That can mean a high degree of consumer loyalty, or it can lead to a backlash.

 Jenn French has long worn head-to-toe J.Crew, posting photos on Instagram under a hashtag used by thousands: #JCrewEverything. But when the San Diego resident last visited a store, about three months ago, she left without buying anything. “It’s sad because it’s a brand I love,” Ms. French, 35 years old, says. “I feel a little bit lost as to where I would even shop now.”

 “We’ve made some missteps over the last year and we are working hard to course correct,” said Chief Executive Millard “Mickey” Drexler of the women’s line on an earnings call in March. He noted strong sales of menswear and at its Madewell brand. Later in the call, Mr. Drexler said, “I don’t think J.Crew women’s looked like J.Crew women’s as much as it could have.”

 J.Crew Group Inc., the closely held company, said in a March financial filing it expected to struggle with women’s clothing through the first quarter of fiscal 2015, which ended April 30. Overall, the company swung to a net loss of $657.8 million for the most recent fiscal year ended Jan. 31, from a profit of $88.1 million the prior year. The loss included a big writedown for the value of its stores and the retailer noted fewer people coming through the mall while more shopped online.

 Sales of J.Crew-branded merchandise rose 4%, to about $2.3 billion in fiscal 2014. J.Crew’s online sales and sales at stores open at least a year, a key measure of retail success, dropped 5% in the fourth quarter, which includes the winter holidays.

 Hale Holden, a high-yield retail analyst at Barclays, attributes about half of J.Crew’s struggles to its own missteps and the other half to the broader struggles with its competitive segment of women’s clothing.

 Women’s apparel overall has been largely flat in recent years after taking a dip during the financial crisis.

 A J.Crew spokeswoman declined requests for comment.

 Many women continue enjoying shopping at J.Crew regularly. Rynetta Davis, an English professor who lives in Lexington, Ky., says “99.9%” of her wardrobe is from J.Crew and chronicles her frequent purchases on her blog, titled “J.Crew Is My Fav Store.” The 38-year-old says some styles don’t work for her, such as the seam placement on the No. 2 Pencil Skirt in cotton twill. But it hasn’t affected how often she shops or how much she spends.

 “It pushed me to expand my style and to try other silhouettes, like dresses,” Dr. Davis says. “I’m really happy with branching out.”

 Others, like Abra Belke, say the changes they have noticed are upsetting. “I used to fall onto the J.Crew site the second I got the catalog. I would dog-ear pages,'” says the 32-year-old law student.

 This spring, in a pair of posts on her blog, Capitol Hill Style, Ms. Belke outlined her concerns about style, quality and price, and received about 100 comments combined. The second post urged the use of the hashtag #reviveJCrew on social media.

 Ms. Belke’s most coveted J.Crew purchases these days are via eBay, where she has an alert set up to notify her when a pair of new or lightly used Miri pumps are available.

 “I hunt those babies like a predator,” Ms. Belke says of the round-toe style. She has four pairs in reserve, besides the pair she wears now.

 J.Crew no longer sells the Miri—a spokeswoman said it “was never a big seller”—but has re-emphasized the Cece ballet flat, which the spokeswoman says is a top-selling style today.

 The retailer has also stepped up marketing on other classic styles. J.Crew shared pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #jcrewclassics. One shot, of a model in a navy suit with white sneakers, received more than 10,000 likes. The brand’s April catalog opened with a section dubbed “The Classics,” which included “The Jean Jacket,” “The Stripe Shirt,” and “The Blazer.”

 J.Crew now carries a new size: 000. Some shoppers saw it as a form of vanity sizing, when garments are given a smaller size to make them more appealing to shoppers. The company says 000 is available only in Hong Kong and online. Some customers have concerns about sizing inconsistency, which is especially problematic for Internet shoppers who purchase clothing without trying it on.

 Annie Dowling, 40 years old, typically wears a size 10 or a Large. At J.Crew, Ms. Dowling will sometimes buy a Medium. “Should I really be a Medium?” she says.

 Ms. Dowling lives in Fayetteville, Ark., a far drive from the closest J.Crew store. She regularly shops Crewcuts online for her son but is buying less for herself because she doesn’t want to order multiple sizes and return what doesn’t fit. “If you get a couple of things in a couple of sizes, you quickly have a thousand dollar credit card bill,” she says.

 Many J.Crew shoppers who have pulled back, like Sydney Lester, are shopping less altogether. The 30-year-old personal stylist in Richmond, Va., prefers to buy J.Crew pieces at consignment or resale shops. “I want to invest in classic pieces,” she says.

 A steady drumbeat of sales, with discounts of as much as 40%, has trained some shoppers to balk at paying full price. “When you get an email about a sale, you’re like, ‘OK, but there’s going to be a sale tomorrow and the next week and the next month,'” says Bess Pearson, who lives in Denver and attends Sewanee: the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. Ms. Pearson, 18, regularly shops at J.Crew but says she can’t recall ever paying full price. Would she? “No, absolutely not.”

 Monique Wright loves the regular discounts offered by her local store in Austin, Texas, because she says it allows her to “buy more.” The 37-year-old stay-at-home mom says, “Every time I go in, I find something I like.” She still has her J.Crew barn jacket and a roll-neck sweater from the early 1990s.

 Ms. French, the San Diego resident, has also held on to her favorite J.Crew pieces. Her first J. Crew jean jacket, dating from the late 1990s, has only minor fraying on the sleeves. “I’ve loved J.Crew since college,” says Ms. French, a former criminal defense attorney who works with her husband, a photographer.

 Ms. French says some of her more recent purchases haven’t held up: The hem on a pencil skirt came undone the second time she wore it; a snap fell off a dress after two wears; and the button on a pea coat has had to be re-sewn three times. “In the past, I felt like J.Crew would last forever,” Ms. French says. “The quality is just not the same.”

 For years, J.Crew sold women on not just clothes, but also a lifestyle with its glossy catalogs. It positioned Jenna Lyons, its president and executive creative director, as the brand’s aspirational ringleader, with “Jenna’s Picks” of must-have pieces that pushed women to try something adventurous, like bright poppy lipstick.

 “I’m a total Jenna Lyons fan girl,” says Lauren Goodwin, who lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

 The 29-year-old admires the way Ms. Lyons puts together “unexpected pieces.” At Spring 2015 New York Fashion Week, where brands typically present fashion-forward styles, J.Crew showed a model in a boxy khaki jacket and blue-and-white striped pajama-style pants with stiletto sandals. The outfit “would look like the coolest thing in the world” on Ms. Lyons, Ms. Goodwin says. “But that’s not realistic for everyone.”

 Ms. Goodwin, who works in communications, says she still shops the brand and bought a pair of black heels a few months ago. But she prefers to wear the older J.Crew pieces in her closet, including a dress she purchased in 2007.

 “It’s hard for the ‘every person’ to find themselves in the J.Crew world anymore,” Ms. Goodwin says.

What are your thoughts on the brand’s evolvement?


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