Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mickey Drexler Talks About How to "Make It" in Fashion

A big "thanks!" to J.Crew Guy In Canada, as well as Gem Twin (in this post), who kindly shared the following article from Refinery 29 with us (click here to read in its entirety) that talks about Madewell's move into San Francisco:
Peep S.F.'s First Madewell— Plus An Exclusive Chat With J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler!
By Katie Hintz-Zambrano
Photos by Shilpi Tomar
July 13, 2011

One of the most revered visionaries in the fashion business, J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler has a thing or two to share when it comes to making it in the uber-competitive industry. On the eve of the grand opening fete celebrating San Francisco's first Madewell store, we caught up with the marketing and product genius—who not only founded Madewell and Old Navy, but was also responsible for Gap’s revolutionary heyday in the ‘90s—to find out about what’s inspiring him now, his take on the fashion scene in S.F. (where he lived for 18 years), and his tips for success! Here's how to get Made, Mickey style.

Why was it important for Madewell to open a S.F. location?
"It’s important because it’s a Madewell kind of town. There’s a lot of classic here, there’s a lot of Haight-Ashbury here, there’s a lot of Mission here, there’s a lot of everything going on in San Francisco and there’s a great appreciation for fashion in this town. I think the city has its own unique vibe and we’re also opening in Corte Madera on August 30th."

How did you decide upon this space and neighborhood?
"We waited two years for this spot. We looked Downtown and we felt that this floor, in this center, in this store was the best first move for Madewell because of traffic, etc. I love doing business with, well, I like to call them artisans. And so we have a lot of great hometown heroes stuff in here, from Mollusk Surf Shop and other unique companies."

You lived in San Francisco for 18 years back when you worked for the Gap and Old Navy. What do you have to do when you come back to visit?

"We go to Unionmade to visit and hang. Todd Barket [Unionmade’s owner] used to work with me and we sell J.Crew there. I went to Bi-Rite ice cream, which is fantastic. I love that. Today I’m going to Mollusk Surf Shop and I’m going to the DODOcase offices to see new colors [J.Crew currently has a collaboration with DODOcase]. And I stay where I always stay: The Four Seasons. I actually come out to San Francisco every three months for Apple board meetings, but this is an extra trip for me."

There’s been sort of a J.Crew-ification of several other mainstream retailers of late. Does that annoy or flatter you?
"There will always be competition in this world. Someone is always going to watch what you’re doing. And as long as you were there first, you were there dominantly, and with the best style and quality, then you’re going to win and the followers will always be behind the leaders. You’re always going to be copied if you’re a leader. Look at Apple. But last I knew, Apple was way, way ahead of #2. We strive to do the same thing. We run this business with very high standards, quality, fit, and point of view. And as I’ve said to one of our competitors, I think it’s better that you follow your own vision instead of someone else’s because that’s what makes great companies. But let the followers follow and in the end of the day, the customers know."

You've been a very successful business man. Do you have business icons that you look up to?
I learn as much from my own mistakes as I do from anyone else’s mistakes. But I’ve been on the board of Apple for 12 years and I’ve had an extraordinary education there. Steve Jobs is an easy one to use as an icon. And for me, I know him very well and I’ve admired and watched what he’s done. He certainly fits the bill. I don’t have a lot, because a lot of us who are trying to be better everyday are constantly raising the bar on who we admire. But I learn from everyone and anyone. We wake up everyday as a team and we’re looking for who does it better than us. And everyday, somebody’s doing something better than you and those are the people we learn from. Whole Foods I admire immensely. Starbucks. I also admire companies like Alden Shoes, for their craftsmanship more so than the commerce. They don’t compromise on anything in the world."

You interview almost everyone who wants to work at J.Crew. What do you look for in an employee?
"I call them associates, I don’t like the word employee. Some of what I look for is immeasurable and some of it’s measurable. I look for a certain energy and feeling and passion coming out of their bodies. I like someone who’s focused and can tell me what they’ve done well and not well and who’s very open, honest, and self-aware. If you get someone right out of college, and I meet a lot of them, you’re not going to get a lot of experience at all, so you have to feel the ambition and desire, which is based on a lot of factors. You banter and you talk and you get a sense of the speed of thinking and flexibility. If they’re not flexible or they don’t think quickly, maybe they’re not in the right place. It’s not terribly scientific, but I interview a dozen or two dozen people a week and I get a certain vibe reasonably fast. You’re not always right. Sometimes you’re wrong, but I’ve learned to go with my gut and my judgment."

If you look back, what do you think your keys to success have been?
"I think the key to success is vision that adjusts on the way, but doesn’t at all falter. It's about not compromising and following your gut to a certain degree, based on knowledge, instinct, etc. And not listening to the naysayers. This business [Madewell] right here, is 6-years-old and I’m really happy to be where we are. We opened that first store in Dallas and it didn’t do well. The second store was in a bad location in Las Vegas. And I didn’t stick with it because of emotion, but because I feel that long-term there was an opportunity to succeed. The other thing that’s really important is when you get knocked down, you sort of have to bounce right back up. You develop strength through adversity. You have to keep moving towards your goal through huge obstacles. It’s not easy. Especially a business like this where there are so many moving parts. You have to build a good team and know who’s good and not good and you have to keep raising the bar on your life. For me it’s always, 'I have to get up and do a little better today and go to work to learn.'"
The new Madewell location looks really nice. Definitely worth a visit if one is the area. I also enjoyed reading Mickey's interview. Especially when he talks about quality and competitors copying J.Crew. And I learned a new term: J.Crew-ification! :)

What are your thoughts on the newest Madewell store? Will you stop by and check them out? If so, please share! :)


  1. I kind of liked this article. I didn't know he was on the board for apple....interesting! That does explain the recent apple product covers though.

    I am really commenting about the half a sentence about the Vegas store. He is right the location was BAD. I mean, really BAD. Yes, it was in the Fashion Show Mall but it was on the 3rd / 4th floor (those of you that have been there are scratching your head and wondering if they even have a 3rd floor). There were only a small hand-full of stores up in the nose bleed section and it was quiet enough that you knew you were the only one up there. Can you imagine that at the fashion show mall on a weekend? Talk about a terrible location.

    That being said I am soooooo sad it closed. Here is a little secret that now that whole world will know. I actually wrote a letter to Madewell telling them to reopen a store in another location. I wasn't sure that they knew how bad the location was and just chalked it up to a lack of cliental in Vegas. Well now I have my answer, he knew, now if only they would open a new store!

    I really liked having a Madewell store and love their jeans. I just know that their prices are so much better instore than online so I rarely bite now days.

    Well that is enough, my book here is about run over it's welcome. : )

  2. Interesting comment about the location of the Las Vegas store. I think the new location is worse -- away from all the buzz on the strip. Cost me about $20 cab fare each way to get to it from the hotel downtown.

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  4. I agree that the Vegas store has difficulties; but BR seems to have found good locations. Why not move to a lower level in the Fashion Show Mall?

    The Town Square Mall is a beautiful development, but it was pretty quiet when I was there and required much more effort to get to than the other mall. Hopefully they did some serious research before opening and the numbers promised better returns.

  5. Your right I wish they would have also kept the Jcrew store at the fashion show mall too but I was referring to the madewell store that was closed in the fashion show. yes, another floor even would be fine. Mickey was also referring to madewell store locations.

    Town square is really busy now days and I would say draws a different crowd but just a bit further depending where you stay. Make sure your cab driver didn't take you the "long way". It really is only 5 -10 minutes from the fashion show from the freeway : )

  6. Hey MegCrew, thanks for the update on Town Square, good to hear that it is busier than what I experienced. The store was decent, but a little on the small side compared to the ones I visited in NYC last summer.

    We took the bus (Duece) and it was super easy. Picked it up on the strip and 15 minutes later we were at the mall. Also used it for the outlets.

  7. Hmmm. Today's WSJ has a story about a few Apple directors, ostensibly concerned about Jobs' health, secretly and unofficially consulting headhunters. Gee, I wonder why I'm reminded of a certain recent "going private"-buyout transaction in which MD played a key role. Let's go get the big kids' dictionary and see if we can look up "fiduciary." hint: it's not a synonym for "gut."

  8. Mickey says a lot without saying much at all. Very savvy. I hope the recognition of what was done well is evident in the upcoming fall collection. Sounds promising.

    I'll definitely visit the Madewell store when I am in SFO next month.

  9. Jcrew guy in Canada- your right the store is TINY! I wish more guys would comment on this blog as you do. You have shared some great articles. I enjoy having feedback on the men's collection too (I'm jealous really).

  10. Hey MegCrew, thanks so much. I'm really looking forward to seeing what fall 2011 offerings will be from J.Crew and a few other favorite brands. Fall/winter clothing is where I spent most of my clothing $$$. Seems crazy to talk about merino wool and such when it's this hot, but soon enough we'll be looking at these items on line and in stores.

  11. This is completely off topic, but I stumbled on this ebay auction (not my own) for a Talitha maxi dress- if I recall, it retailed for $450 and has a BIN of $80. I wish I was a size 2!

  12. I was so excited to see the Madewell shop front in Corte the meantime, guess I will take a drive into the city and check out the Madewell in SF.

  13. Hey MegCrew! Maybe MD realized the Madewell store in Vegas had a bad location from your letter. You never know! I agree our JC store is tiny and needs more variety. I personally think taking the store out of the Fashion Show Mall was a big mistake. I wonder if it was because of the rent. Talbots also left the mall. The article was interesting and I hope Madewell does well. I would disagree with his statements about quality as JC's quality has really taken a nose dive. They need to fix this problem!


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