What J.Crew’s near-death experience can teach us about ourselves & our organisations

j-crew-rs17-6301I used to love J.Crew. I mean really love it. The shops themselves, their online business, them as an organisation, as a culture. I felt like a kid in a cashmere and tartan-lined candy store in their shops. The glittering, neon costume jewellery, the Jackie sweaters, pepto bismal pink satin shoes. I got my first work dress for my office job in Paris from J. Crew. I didn’t speak French yet and I was shit-scared, but dammit, I looked the part. I played a role in them opening their first London store and went to the launch on Regent Street. I met Micky Drexler their legendary former CEO. He arranged for me to have a tour of their offices in NY. The whole place was heaven for a woman in her early 20s (and a business fanatic) like me. Rows and rows of beautiful clothes waiting to be photographed on models for the spring catalogue. I remember meeting the woman who names their clothing colours, a woman called Cherie has her own office there and names and catalogues them all. Over 6,000 colours. And how? From books or what she eats or a scene she sees. Anything really, she mused when I asked her.

Micky Drexler himself gave interviews where he would talk about the importance of brands knowing themselves, their roots and being true and authentic to those things. Smart evolution. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Keep your standards high. Know why your customers love you. What makes them feel special. And in Micky’s case, work like a dog. Always.

These are the lessons that seem to have been forgotten and lost. I agree wholeheartedly with this article https://palebluecoaching.com/2019/01/03/what-the-lessons-of-j-crew-tell-us-about-the-importance-of-being-yourself/ That they will need to die if they are to live. Get emotional. Create a special connection with their customers.

But why does any of this matter? In terms of J. Crew itself, compared to really any issue at all, it doesn’t. Not in the grand scheme of things. Except that I think theirs are the mistakes that too often get made. When I think about my coaching work with individuals, and culture work for organisations, the same themes are all there. Individuals must understand their roots, lay down boundaries, know their values, clarify their purpose, be authentic and trust-worthy. Evolve smartly. All this, not just to survive, but to thrive.

Transformations happen, but they take time. It’s a very tall order. But it can be done. J.Crew may not make it, but we can all learn their lessons.