J.Crew Group has named Johanna Uurasjarvi as Chief Design Officer, where she will be in charge of overall design direction for the J. Crew brand along with Crewcuts and Mercantile. The company’s growing Madewell chain has its own design team.
Uurasjarvi is tasked with winning back shoppers to a brand that has done poorly in retaining them in recent years. J.Crew sales decreased 7% to $391.9 million in Q1, with comparable sales dipping 6% following a decrease of 11% in Q1 last year.The fashion retailer has struggled for the past few years due to a slow reaction to changing trends and a perception that prices were no longer in sync with quality.
Turnover at the C-level accompanied the declining sales and traffic. Longtime CEO Mickey Drexler, who helmed J.Crew during its rise in popularity in the 2000s, stepped down in June 2017, two weeks after admitting that he underestimated the role technology would play in retail.
Much of this turnover has occurred at the top design spot, leading to Uurasjarvi’s hiring. J.Crew saw its then President, Executive Creative Director and second-in-command Jenna Lyons step down from her role in April 2017. Lyons was considered the creative mastermind behind the brand’s rise during Drexler’s tenure. Only five months after Lyons stepped down, her replacement, Somsack Sikhounmuong, left the company as well.
Uurasjarvi has a rich background running design teams. She previously was Creative Director of West Elm, where she was the concept builder of its successful “New Modern” assortment, a lighter and brighter interpretation of classic Mid-Century Modern with layered textures and material innovation that incorporated the company’s signature interest in global artistry. The efforts helped West Elm reach $1 billion in revenue.
Prior to her time at West Elm, Uurasjarvi served as the Executive Creative Director of Product Design at Anthropologie for 10 years, where she built the company’s first in-house design team. At both companies, she worked with Jim Brett, who became J.Crew Group’s CEO last year after Drexler’s departure.
This is Brett’s second major hire as CEO: in February, he hired Adam Brotman, the Starbucks executive who played a crucial role in turning the coffee chain into a retail tech leader, to improve customer service as J.Crew’s Chief Experience Officer.
But attempts at a turnaround appear to go beyond C-level hires. The retailer also has been adding new brands to its offering, including exclusive Prime Cotton men’s underwear designed by direct-to-consumer essentials brand Mack Weldon. Recently, J.Crew debuted an intimates line, a swim line, and a “Heritage” collection of its classic styles as a way to diversify its apparel offerings.