Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake returns as CEO to try to save her company

January 6, 2023, 1:54 PM UTC
Stitch Fix founder—and returning CEO—Katrina Lake.
Amy Osborne—San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Ketanji Brown Jackson will write a memoir, Bed Bath & Beyond considers bankruptcy, and Katrina Lake returns to save Stitch Fix. Have a great weekend.

– Boomerang style. When Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake handed the reins of her company over to Elizabeth Spaulding in August 2021, the personal-styling business was in a decent position. Its stock had fallen from January 2021 highs, but it was still trading at $54, up 259% from its $15 IPO price in 2017.

In the year-and-a-half since, the market has cratered—and so have the company’s shares. Stitch Fix’s stock is down 93% since Lake’s CEO handover, trading below market performance at just $3.47. The company has conducted multiple rounds of layoffs and slashed its forecasts. Between 2021 and 2022, the service lost 200,000 customers and struggled with an attempted pivot from a subscription box business to a comprehensive, on-demand shopping destination.

Throughout these challenges, Bain & Co. alum Spaulding was leading the company as CEO after a long-planned transition while Lake chaired the board of directors. It couldn’t have been easy for Lake to see the company she founded and took public in 2017 (as the youngest female founder to do so at the time) struggle so mightily.

Stitch Fix founder—and returning CEO—Katrina Lake.
Amy Osborne—San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

So, Stitch Fix announced yesterday, Spaulding will leave the firm and Lake will return to her old job as CEO. (The company is also laying off 20% of employees.) The management change puts Lake among a historic group of boomerang founders and CEOs who return to try to save the day, from Steve Jobs at Apple to Bob Iger at Disney more recently.

“I still deeply believe in the Stitch Fix business, mission and vision,” Lake wrote in a note to employees yesterday. “We know because of the hard work and foundation laid by this team that there is a great future available for this company and we are committed to getting the company on a path to achieve it.” (Stitch Fix declined an interview request for Lake.)

Lake will return on an interim basis for an expected six months to run a CEO search process, the company said in a press release.

As Fortune alum Beth Kowitt wrote in a recent Bloomberg column about Iger’s return at Disney, identifying a successor is one hallmark of a longtime CEO’s legacy on which both Iger and Lake seem to have fallen short. Spaulding was handed a difficult task at Stitch Fix that was made harder by market forces outside her control. But ultimately, no one knows Stitch Fix better than Lake. The future she will now seek for the company may be very different from the one she imagined as a Harvard MBA student-founder in 2011 or while ringing the Nasdaq bell in 2017. If she follows in the footsteps of past boomerang CEOs, she could be able to reach it.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Subscribe here.


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