EXCLUSIVE: Adrienne Lazarus Named Madewell President

EXCLUSIVE: Adrienne Lazarus Named Madewell President

Madewell, the steadier performing brand of the J. Crew Group, has named Adrienne Lazarus president to extend its track record of growth.
Lazarus, a 30-year veteran of specialty retail and direct-to-consumer companies, will join Madewell in September and oversee all of the retailer’s functions. She will report to Libby Wadle, chief executive officer of J. Crew Group, which operates J. Crew, J. Crew Factory Outlets, Crewcuts and Madewell.

Wadle has been overseeing both Madewell and J. Crew, but will turn over the day-to-day management of Madewell to Lazarus.

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“Adrienne’s exceptional leadership skills, creativity and passion for building relevant, customer-centric and purpose-driven brands will be a great asset to our team as Madewell continues to scale,” Wadle said in a statement Tuesday. “Her strategic approach, entrepreneurial spirit, and proven track record makes her the ideal leader to join Madewell as we position the brand for the future.” 

Wadle was not available for further comment Tuesday, but the addition of Lazarus at Madewell would enable Wadle to perform more of a strategic role, setting future directions for both Madewell and J. Crew, and also devote more time to J. Crew, where work is needed to recapture the popularity, style authority and cool factor it once had until the business started slipping roughly nine years ago. The J. Crew brand does not have its own president.

The last person to hold the title of Madewell president was Wadle. After working for several years at Madewell, including being part of the team led by Millard “Mickey” Drexler that launched the brand in 2006, she became president of Madewell in 2017. In April 2019 she was promoted to CEO of Madewell, and in November 2020, Wadle was again promoted, to CEO of the J. Crew Group. She successfully navigated the company through the pandemic, brought Madewell back to growth mode, and has been working to revive J. Crew.

Lazarus was most recently co-CEO of Cuup, a direct-to-consumer intimates brand, and a senior adviser at McKinsey & Company, counseling retail and apparel clients. Earlier, Lazarus served as CEO of Bandier, CEO of Frye, and president of Intermix. In its announcement Tuesday, J. Crew Group credited Lazarus with “leading those companies through substantial periods of growth and driving two successful transactions.”

Lazarus was also once the president of the Ann Taylor brand, leading a turnaround there and during her 17-year tenure at Ann Taylor Inc. she was instrumental in launching and growing Loft to $1 billion in revenue.

The Madewell look.

“Madewell is an iconic brand with well-positioned product, deep customer loyalty and unique focus on creating community,” Lazarus said in a statement. “I’m energized by the clear potential for growth…”

The casual, laid-back Madewell brand entered 2023 with what its executives characterized as a “culled-down, elevated and refined” collection aimed at keeping pace with America’s fast-changing shopping patterns. They put the spotlight on Madewell’s “new classics” — the leather blazer, poplin shirt, the trench coat, a relaxed suit, a sling bag, the slipdress — as well as trending denim leg shapes, oversized separates, and styles and outfits versatile to wear day-into-night and for different occasions. The company continues to be rooted in denim, which accounts for about one third of the volume. Madewell is tracking toward generating $1 billion in sales eventually. In 2018, it generated roughly $700 million in volume.

With its fall 2023 collection, Madewell continued to evolve. “It really does tie back to the work we started for spring — our effortlessly refined perspective, always rooted in denim,” Joyce Lee, creative director at Madewell, told WWD in a recent interview. Relaxed tailoring, separates that can be paired with the denim, chinos, and “effortless” styles are all important, she said.

Since its launch, Madewell has maintained a downtown, youth appeal without being trendy. As the years pass, it must evolve as lifestyles change, and customers get older, while also drawing in new shoppers. Building menswear is another challenge.

In 2019, the owners of J. Crew Group revealed plans to take the-then high-flying Madewell public but eventually aborted that idea due to the impact of COVID-19 and a determination that the sister J. Crew brand, being saddled with debt, wouldn’t survive on its own. The company filed Chapter 11 in April 2020 and four months later, through a debt-for-equity swap, emerged from the bankruptcy with almost all of its $1.7 billion of debt wiped out and with Anchorage Capital Group LLC as majority owner.

As of Aug. 1, the J. Crew Group operated 121 J. Crew retail stores, 152 Madewell stores, and 199 J. Crew Factory outlets in nearly every state in the U.S. The company also operates e-commerce website and selectively wholesales its brands.

Libby Wadle on Madewell’s Fall Message and Marketing Strategy

Libby Wadle on Madewell’s Fall Message and Marketing Strategy

For its fall campaign, Madewell asks the question, “What Are You Made Of?”
It’s a redux of the spring campaign, with the same theme and inspirational tone, but this time with a trio of celebrity/comics: Phoebe Robinson, Hasan Minhaj and Chloe Fineman.
“The goal of the campaign is to celebrate self-expression by showing people who have found success by being exactly who they are. It will run through our fall season,” said Libby Wadle, chief executive officer of the J. Crew Group, which operates the Madewell and J. Crew brands.
The three celebs each indicate what they’re made of, with a mix of humor and seriousness, with Fineman indicating that she’s all about “playing dress-up as an adult, coffee, flowers, wigs, fresh produce, laughing with her sister and arguing with strangers.”

Minhaj says: “I’m made of the job that I love” and that makes him feel lucky. “I had a lot of jobs that I did not love — bagging groceries, selling printers, working the drive-thru.”

And what’s Robinson all about? “Walking the chaotic New York City streets, with my headphones blasting ’cause that’s when I do some of my best thinking. You know that scary and exciting feeling when you come up with a good ass idea? That’s what I’m made of.”

Chloe Fineman in the Madewell campaign. 

With the fall campaign, Madewell shifts away from an up-to-40-percent-off promotion that concluded Monday, though the brand doesn’t come across as an overly aggressive discounter like some others. Madewell has continued on a growth trajectory for several seasons. It’s casual, easy sportswear orientation with denim at the core seems versatile enough both for the pandemic, stay-at-home lifestyle, and for informal gatherings outside the home. Last April, Madewell finally launched an app, and in August 2020, loyalty points were introduced to the Insider program of perks, such as free shipping and returns, and early access to new products and invitations to events.

Below, Wadle responds to questions about the campaign and marketing generally.

Libby Wadle 

WWD: What styles are emphasized in the campaign and most important for fall?
Libby Wadle: Denim will of course be heavily featured in the campaign. One hero product we’re really excited about is our new “perfect vintage straight” jean, worn by both Chloe and Phoebe. The jean just launched as our newest addition to our bestselling “perfect vintage” jean family with an on-trend wider-leg cut. This is also the first time that we’ve included men’s in a campaign of this scale, reflecting our focus on that business go forward.
WWD: In developing the campaign, did the pandemic play a role and how so?
L.W.: We have a long history of supporting up-and-coming creatives at Madewell and for this campaign we wanted to lend our support to an industry that has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. That led us to work with the National Independent Venue Association and support their work in helping comedy and music venues recover after pandemic closures, where many budding creatives including the cast of the campaign, got their start.
WWD: Why these three celebrities/comedians in particular, for your campaign?
L.W.: We were drawn to them because they are all dynamic performers with a strong point of view. We also love how they each have found success by being exactly who they are.

WWD: Has the pandemic impacted your fashion offerings? 
L.W.: The pandemic impacted the fashion industry in countless ways, but from a process standpoint we operated the same way we always have: we read the market, listened to our customers and met them with what they wanted to see from us. 
WWD: Since emerging from bankruptcy in September 2020, has the marketing budget increased, by how much, and what areas are receiving the lion’s share?
L.W.: For Madewell, we continue to focus on introducing our brand to new audiences and increasing awareness. This campaign is part of those efforts and an exciting step for our men’s business as the first time we’ve done a campaign of this scale.  

Hasan Minhaj in Madewell’s “What Are You Made Of” campaign. 

WWD: Personal stylists, are they an important part of the marketing? How long has the company  had personal stylists and in what ways do they communicate best with customers? What training do they receive?
L.W.: Styling has always been an important part of the Madewell experience. Since day one we’ve had stylists in our stores and when they closed in 2020, we quickly pivoted to offer a virtual program which has become an important touch point with our customers. Our goal is to offer styling any way our customer wants, whether it’s in person or in the comfort of their home. 
WWD: What are the best three ways to gather feedback on style and service?
L.W.: We have over 10 avenues for collecting customer feedback. One that is particularly helpful is a platform we created called Group Chat where we survey our customers, asking them anything from what they plan on buying for the next season to what they are listening to or watching. 
WWD: Last year you said more than 60 percent of Madewell customers are Insider members. They drive 73 percent of brand sales. Has this changed?
L.W.: Since launching points we have seen a meaningful increase in loyalty membership as well as the impact our Insiders have on our business. We’re focused on continuing to enhance the program through special events and product.
WWD: Through marketing, are you doing anything to encourage store visits considering the pandemic has hampered traffic?
L.W.: As we’ve navigated the last year and half we have made it a priority to evolve our services and keep our customers updated on what we offer in stores so they can shop in the easiest and safest way possible with us. This has included an increased focus on buy online, pick up in store as well as offering styling appointments, virtually, for those who [would] rather shop from the comfort of their homes.

Athleta Launches Fitness Platform AthletaWell

Athleta Launches Fitness Platform AthletaWell

Athleta is upping its fitness game.
The women’s athletic apparel- and accessories-maker, which is owned by Gap Inc., has launched a new social platform called AthletaWell. 
“At its core, AthletaWell is really providing a safe space for women to navigate the complexities of modern-day womanhood and get expert advice on topics all rooted in female wellbeing,” Kim Waldmann, Athleta’s chief digital officer, told WWD. “[Topics] we’re afraid to ask for fear of embarrassment, or maybe they’re taboo, or we don’t want to look like we’re different than everybody else. Like, what are tips for sleep? Or fertility. Or even simple things, like I’m a DD, is there a good bra that doesn’t chafe endlessly?”

The platform also includes interest-based groups, where members can join in conversations or start their own; access to Athleta “guides,” or experts, such as yoga teachers, medical doctors, mediation guides, strength trainers, dietitians, physical therapists and motivational speakers, and links to events, both virtual and in-person around the country, such as run clubs and exercise classes, helping Athleta shoppers create community. 

AthletaWell, Athleta’s new fitness and wellness platform, is available by way of desktop and mobile devices and includes a section with Athleta “Guides,” or experts in various fitness and wellness areas. 
Courtesy Photo

“At Athleta, we really think about it in an omnichannel kind of way, to meet the customer wherever she wants to be and wherever she wants to be,” Waldmann said. “We know that there’s so much value in driving brand loyalty and deepening our engagement without customers. We know that our loyalty program customers spend over two times more with us than our non-loyalty member customers. So, for us to be able to offer [AthletaWell] as sort of a benefit of the loyalty program, it will drive more loyalty participation. And those individuals who are much more engaged with the brand spend more with the brand.” 

And Athleta has no shortage of loyal fans. The rapidly growing brand had revenues of $978 million in 2020 and roughly 200 stores around the nation. In January, Athleta set a new goal: $2 billion in revenues by 2023 and plans to open between 20 and 30 more stores a year. Three months later, the San Francisco-based business said it was also moving to Canada, launching an e-commerce site there. 
For the launch of AthletaWell, Athleta is also partnering with Obé Fitness, a digital fitness platform. Athleta Rewards members will be able to access exclusive 10-minute Obé Fitness workout videos for free on AthletaWell. 
“We know being active is an important part of our customers’ overall wellbeing, so we are thrilled to invest in and partner with Obé and offer the Athleta community access to this like-minded partner,” said Mary Beth Laughton, president and chief executive officer of Athleta. “As our brand continues to grow, this investment creates a unique engagement opportunity for our customers and helps us build even more loyalty over time.” 
Waldmann added that the partnership will help Athleta reach a wider audience. 
“What we were really attracted to with Obé was just how democratic it is,” she explained. “The fact that you can get these incredible high-quality workouts, but you can watch it on your laptop, your phone, whatever screen. You don’t have to buy a really expensive piece of equipment or hardware to be able to participate. And for us at Athleta, that’s so core to our brand values. 

“Obé is really the anchor partner for the fitness experience,” Waldmann continued. “But I think what you’ll see from us as we continue to build out this platform is we will continue to partner with like-minded brands that are best-in-class in their fields across the full spectrum of female wellbeing.” 
Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of competition in the activewear market, which continues to expand at full speed.  
In fact, during the pandemic, everyone from Target Corp. to American Eagle Outfitters Inc.’s Aerie to Madewell to Danielle Bernstein’s WeWoreWhat, was trying to find their place in the world of athleisure, performance wear and wellness. On Tuesday, Lululemon revealed plans to partner with Wysdom, an artificial intelligence firm, for a digital wellbeing platform that is set to launch sometime in 2022. Even Rihanna may be getting into the game soon. 
Waldmann said AthletaWell is unique in that it brings together various elements of fitness, apparel and wellbeing in one place for free. 
“There are Q&A platforms out there; there are blogs on fertility and yoga. And there are plenty of fitness apps,” she said. “But there really isn’t a place for women to get access to vetted experts across the whole spectrum of female well-being. AthletaWell is about physical well-being. But Athleta is also interested in mental well-being, emotional well-being and environmental well-being.” 
Athleta Rewards loyalty members have access to AthletaWell by way of (Shoppers can sign up for the loyalty program for free by providing an email address.) Waldmann said the brand will also introduce an AthletaWell “native app experience” within the Athleta app later this year.

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