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J.Crew Is Debuting $98 Cashmere

What does this say about the brand’s new direction?

Photo: J.Crew

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The past few months at J.Crew have been characterized by seismic shifts. In June, longtime CEO Mickey Drexler announced he was leaving the company; this came shortly after the departure of beloved creative director and president Jenna Lyons. A few weeks before stepping down, Drexler announced the brand’s plans to slash prices in an attempt to reclaim “J.Crew’s identity as an affordable and accessible brand for everybody — not just the fashion-forward crowd.”

Change is inevitable given several years of slumping sales. Lyons made J.Crew trendier (some say at the expense of customers who shopped there for basics) and more expensive, and now it needs to course-correct. A line in the most recent (and scaled-back) catalog tells shoppers to “keep an eye out for more prices that’ll make you smile.”

This promise is coming to fruition with J.Crew’s new “Everyday Cashmere” collection, which launches today. Prices start at $98 for simple crewnecks and are capped at $248 for a few novelty sweaters with bows. Not long ago, J.Crew was peddling $500 lace jogging pants and $800 skirts. Its cheapest cashmere in recent memory was a $145 sweater — for infants.

Photo: J.Crew

This new line confirms that J.Crew is getting back to basics. This doesn’t mean it’s giving up on trends entirely, but when it does lean into them, it is likely do so on a smaller, more affordable scale. In this way, it’s remaining true to its DNA while paying attention to the enormous growth in the fast fashion sector. Its version of fast fashion, however, is more Uniqlo (known for its clean basics, including $80 cashmere sweaters) than H&M.

J.Crew is also beginning to operate more like a fast fashion company behind the scenes. As Business of Fashion reported last week, the brand isn’t showing at New York Fashion Week for the first time in years, nor does it have plans to replace chief design officer Somsack Sikhounmuong, a 16-year company vet who resigned last week after being promoted following Lyons’s departure. In the spring, Drexler confirmed J.Crew was looking to expand its supply chain in order to speed up the process of getting merchandise to stores.

J.Crew is still a household name, but part of what made the company so adored was the fact that it wasn’t a fast fashion machine. It’s long been a brand synonymous with design talent and integrity, not to mention quality. It will be no easy task to make a fast fashion-like pivot while ensuring brand identity doesn’t suffer.