After years of struggling sales and multiple attempts at revitalization, J.Crew has once again decided to pivot. On Friday, November 29, the brand announced in a memo that it would discontinue two of its clothing collections, Mercantile and Nevereven, the latter of which had launched a mere 16 days earlier.
Mercantile, meanwhile, is the only J.Crew brand currently sold on Amazon, and its closure leaves the relationship between the fashion brand and the online retailer murky.
J.Crew’s then-CEO Jim Brett made a deal with Amazon in September to sell Mercantile products on the site after years of avoiding a partnership, possibly due to concerns that Amazon would use sales data to launch cheaper versions of their products or discouraging shoppers from visiting stores. He also aimed to launch other, more affordable brands underneath the J.Crew umbrella, but a memo released to staff backtracked, saying that “We believe that a ‘good’ price tier opportunity is better served by the J.Crew label.”
By all accounts, Brett, previously at West Elm, was starting to guide J.Crew toward a more profitable direction — the brand’s total comparable store sales continued to rise during his tenure, in the most recent quarter showing the biggest gains in more than five years. But after just 15 months with the company, he departed in mid-November over disagreements with the board. And the move to scrap Mercantile and Nevereven is a direct reversal of his decisions.
From the outside, there don’t appear to be hard feelings between Brett and J.Crew. On November 19, Brett wrote in a post on LinkedIn that he felt gratitude to the “incredible team,” encouraged readers to shop the holiday collection, and said that the “differences that led to my departure existed between a very small group of people,” reportedly including longtime J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler.
He also attempted to set the record straight on his goals for Mercantile:
It’s not about watered down product and mass merchandising — a point that has been misrepresented in several articles and posts. You will find lowered prices in the J Crew Mercantile brand. You see it was never about cheapening the core J Crew brand, it was about introducing Mercantile products that are accessible to a broader range of customers.
As of now, the duties of the CEO are being delegated among four J.Crew executives. That likely means yet another period of revision for the company, where constant change appears to be the new normal.
After a stylistic overhaul this fall, J.Crew’s aesthetic is much more similar to that of its more successful sister brand Madewell, a shift that had the explicit purpose of appealing to as many people as possible, while blurring the J.Crew identity. What was once the pinnacle of New England prep (and later a flashy sequins-for-daytime vibe courtesy of former creative director Jenna Lyons) now looks relatively indistinguishable from other casual American brands such as the Gap.
The brand says in its memo that it’s focusing on “return[ing] the J.Crew brand to profitable growth” by expanding its outlet business, J.Crew Factory, which currently has 175 stores. In all likelihood, this news signals yet another slip in the slow and steady fall of J.Crew.