How J.Crew’s new CEO plans to slay the discount dragon

June 24, 2021, 10:30 PM UTC

One of the biggest items on J.Crew Group CEO Libby Wadle’s long to-do list as she leads the company out of the pandemic? To start chipping away at customers’ addiction for discounts at the retailer’s struggling namesake brand.

The first step toward that is to create a virtuous cycle that begins with making quality products that shoppers actually want, a simple proposition that has eluded J.Crew for years as it chased fashion and office clothes and neglected its core quality-basics business that made it beloved by shoppers for years. That often led to an abundance of items needing to be sold at clearance, worsening shoppers’ discount habit.

“Once you get the product right and the inventory investments right, you don’t need all those [discounts],” Wadle said on Thursday at Fortune’Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference, noting that this will be key to transforming shoppers’ perceptions of the brand. “We can start talking about quality and storytelling,” she added, “and stop talking about discounts.”

Wadle had led J.Crew’s sister brand Madewell until becoming CEO of J.Crew Group in November, soon after it emerged from bankruptcy protection. She sees shoppers’ current efforts to update their wardrobes—which have consisted largely of comfortable, casual wear for the past year—as an opportunity to reintroduce J.Crew. “Comfort has definitely been king over the past year, and that has informed how people want to feel as they’re leaving their houses,” Wadle said.

That has meant more relaxed fits and a more casual look even when dressing up a bit, such as wearing only the top of a suit and matching it with a more relaxed bottom, and even greater use of elastic waists, she said. Expect to see more stretchy, comfortable fabrics and elastics in the next collections.

As for Madewell, which thrived on her watch, Wadle sees the brand as likely to benefit enormously from the current denim renaissance. And the “more butts” Madewell can get into jeans now, the more it will become habit for shoppers to return to Madewell.

“The beauty of the bottoms business,” she said, “is once you find a great fit, it keeps you coming back.”

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