Death by 30% Off Discounts — and How J. Crew Can Recover

Allow me this indulgence. J.Crew has been a staple in my life for going on close to two decades. More or less, since I was in college. It’s not the same store or brand it was back then.

When I first picked up one of their standard white t-shirts, there wouldn’t have been an article about its misguided prepster leanings. It was an upscale relaxed clothing line. It was where you went to get quality, comfortable shirts and cargo pants — or slacks — that allowed you to look put together. And they lasted a good while. You paid full-price about 90 percent of the time, but you knew what you were getting and you were happy to pay the price.

Fast forward through decisions about higher-quality materials, ill-conceived partnerships, and general style shift — and you have the J. Crew that exists today. The dresses still fit a little boxy for most women’s bodies. They have a comfortable line of shoes and handbags. Cargoes have been swapped out for capris — that are always a bit too waspy for my calves. And the colors and embellishments of the tops help you forget the prudish necklines. But it’s not about the style alone.

WTF were they thinking with the J. Crew Spring/Summer 2017 collection? These stripes are way too thick to be sexy. Photo credit Thomson Reuters.

The J. Crew aesthetic was hit hard by the recession along with a number of other retailers that have been struggling ever since. And they’ve all seemed to go in the direction of daily 30% off sales and general normcore. They don’t even try to distinguish themselves from each other anymore. Think about J. Crew, Banana Republic, and most of the brands you’ll find on the racks at Macy’s. Do you even care which brands you’re wearing? You do when you’re going to yoga or a spin class now. Athleisure wear has taken the momentum from the everyday wear retailers and grown increasingly more styled and marketing savvy these days. If I say Lululemon, ROKA, Prana, Nike, and Oiselle, you instantly have a distinct style and description that comes to mind. If not a visual of the man or woman that would be wearing each brand. And you know what else? They’re charging full — exorbitant — prices — shockingly, even for faulty fabrics.

So, here’s my thought — and my selfish wish — in hopes of saving J.Crew. (Because I really do love their white t-shirts and their linen boyfriend dress shirts.) Why not distinguish yourself? Boldly and in a culturally-relevant way? Rebrand even?

What do millennials enjoy doing in their clothes? Traveling all over the map? Sharing “experiences” with their friends? Being comfortable, but in a way that they can be presentable in case that person sitting beside them in the coffee shop is actually a potential new customer of their online business but doesn’t look like it because all the major cities are now overrun by either Marine Layer or bespoke clothing hand-loomed in Brooklyn?

J.Crew, wake up! You ARE normcore. But you could embody it in the most endearing and travel-ready way possible. You could bring comfortable, slightly styled and fitted (did I mention women’s dresses?) clothing to all of us who are scratching our heads about the endless scenarios you’re perfectly positioned to solve. Think Danish style partnered with American comfort (and make) and Italian patterns.

Flew from Manhattan to SF, and need to dress down just enough for the sweatshirts and your own comfort? J.CREW. Headed to brunch and just know you’re going to get avocado all over that shirt, but want to wear it with style? J.CREW! Need a Jobsian wardrobe that’s a little brighter because, well, your complexion and it’s too hot for turtlenecks? J.CREW!! Live in a place that’s not a major city but still want to look like you’re in between a #hustle meeting and heading out for an early happy hour at a local gin distillery? J.CREW!!!

You are so nearly the solution to a vast demographic of people who are looking for just the right style and willing to pay for it, as long as it says something about their lifestyles. You’ve just lost your narrative. It’s ok. There’s a lot of us out here waiting to hear it. Waiting to see you shift gears a touch and reclaim your value — and place in our closets and suitcases — just like the Porsche 911 has today.

With a curated aesthetic that allows the wearer to coolly fit in anywhere — think Monocle shop artifacts here — you could become the style of those who still have comfortable jobs and the luxury of upward mobility. Oh, and avocado toast. Maybe we’re onto brioche toast and jam for breakfast now though.

Otherwise… Well, I suppose I’m going to have to stockpile those shirts and a couple of those platform shoes. Maybe a handbag or two. Special thanks to GSO Capital Partners for the momentary reprieve.

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