Technology and logistics, not vogue, makes as we speak's apparel CEOs – San Francisco Chronicle

Mickey Drexler wasn’t simply any retail govt. He was a “service provider prince,” a person whose vogue instincts helped rescue Hole Inc. within the 1990s when the San Francisco apparel chain was struggling to seek out relevance.

However Drexler’s latest resolution to resign as J. Crew CEO is maybe probably the most stark reminder that vogue and advertising experience alone can’t rescue an trade besot by speedy demographic and technological change. Different massive names in vogue, together with Ron Johnson (J.C. Penney), Terry Lundgren (Macy’s), and Sharen Jester Turney (Victoria’s Secret), have vacated their posts in recent times. Kathryn Bufano (Bon-Ton Shops) and Linda Heasley (Lane Bryant) additionally resigned this yr.

It may be tempting to say that Drexler misplaced his vogue contact and that individuals simply don’t need to purchase J. Crew clothes. However the trade has been quickly reworking.

Model Connor Keith (left) works with photographer Mark Fore and stylist Ronald Gravesande during a fashion shoot at the offices of Touch of Modern in San Francisco. The company offers men well-fitting, limited assortment clothes in the most convenient way possible. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Photograph: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Mannequin Connor Keith (left) works with photographer Mark Fore and stylist Ronald Gravesande throughout a vogue shoot on the workplaces of Contact of Fashionable in San Francisco. The corporate gives males nicely-becoming, restricted assortment garments in probably the most handy means attainable.

The populism now we have witnessed in politics appears to be sweeping by the style trade as nicely. Whereas service provider princes and princesses as soon as informed us what to put on a yr from now, Millennial consumers look to the extra fickle and unpredictable trendsetters on social media.

“Drexler was the man that everybody thought had the magic contact,” stated Chicago retail advisor Brian Kelly. “However retailers as we speak ought to be utilizing knowledge ... fairly than attending final yr’s vogue present.”

The following technology of retail apparel leaders will not be specialists in vogue. They'll focus extra on knowledge and provide chains.

Walmart, which is understood extra for logistics prowess than for vogue, stated Friday that it'll purchase on-line males’s retailer Bonobos for $310 million.

“There’s extra to retail proper now” than simply making good garments, stated Mark Lovas, a former prime govt at Bonobos who's now CEO of Trumaker in San Francisco, one other on-line males’s clothes store. Apparel retailers should craft enterprise fashions that ship merchandise to prospects and take away unsold clothes from stock within the quickest, most price-environment friendly means attainable, he stated.

These expertise appear at odds with the merchandisers and entrepreneurs who've historically run apparel chains.

Within the first half of the 20th century, massive household-owned department shops dominated the U.S. vogue trade. Prospects would trek to a downtown Bloomingdale’s, Marshall Subject’s or Dayton’s to seek out the most recent look.

A CEO usually would have began on the firm as a purchaser, touring throughout the nation and ultimately around the globe to fulfill designers and attend vogue exhibits. Drexler got here from a vogue background: He was merchandising vice chairman at Abraham & Straus in New York and later labored at Ann Taylor, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. After his stint at Hole, he led J. Crew as CEO for 14 years.

However the world of service provider princes has been upended. The Web has allowed consumers to shortly discover a variety of data — costs, types, opinions — past catalogs, magazines or Sunday newspaper circulars.

“Most retailers loved opportunistic time intervals,” stated Alicia Hare, a former technique govt at Goal Corp. who's now a regional president for SYPartners, a consulting agency in San Francisco. “However that they had no sense of function. Why do they exist? Throughout difficult instances, for those who can’t fall again on some sort of North Star, it’s tough to discover a path by.”

Some rising e-commerce corporations like Bonobos and Contact of Fashionable in San Francisco, in contrast, have a laser focus. Each supply restricted assortments of nicely-becoming males’s clothes in probably the most handy means attainable.

Jerry Hum, co-founder and CEO of Contact of Fashionable, stated he and his mates created the startup partly as a result of they hated buying at malls. Whereas ladies will check out a number of outfits at a bodily retailer, males will purchase a number of colours of the identical shirt they like, he stated.

And although Hum and his workers had no earlier expertise in design or merchandising, they now really feel assured sufficient to create their very own model of clothes traces.

These e-commerce startups get pleasure from a definite benefit over chains like Hole and J. Crew: The chains should spend some huge cash working bodily shops. That’s why retail leaders should thoughts each penny and root out waste, particularly in shops and the availability chain.

“Retail chains require numerous labor,” stated Ash Fontana, a managing director with Zetta Enterprise Companions in San Francisco. Lowering labor prices requires utilizing synthetic intelligence programs and knowledge evaluation, he stated.

For all of his expertise on the runway, Drexler isn’t significantly recognized for his experience in know-how and logistics.

It’s an uncomfortable fact about apparel retailers: Garments might make the person, however they now not make the CEO.

Thomas Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. He's creator of “Rebuilding Empires” (St. Martin’s Press) on how massive-field retailers will adapt to the digital age. E mail: tlee@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ByTomLee

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