Linda Heasley, who led the Ascena Group-owned plus-size apparel retailers Lane Bryant and Catherine's, has left the company.
“We have announced the resignation internally, and at our Investor Day on Jan. 18,” Ascena EVP of Human Resources (Value Fashion Segment) and Corporate Affairs Sue Ross said in an email to Retail Dive, confirming an earlier New York Post report. “We wish Linda the best and thank her for her contributions to Ascena. We have launched a search for Linda’s replacement.”
Ascena promoted Heasley to president and CEO of its Plus Fashion segment in October 2016; previously she was CEO of Lane Bryant.
For a few quarters now, Ascena CEO David Jaffe has blamed outside forces for its ongoing woes: In its fiscal first quarter, the company (which runs Maurices, Dress Barn and other specialty chains in addition to Lane Bryant and Catherine's) credited election anxiety for same-store sales declines of 5%, with unseasonable weather at fault for muted sales and traffic in previous months.
Ascena ended the first quarter of its fiscal 2017 with inventory of $808 million, down 9% from the previous year. The inventory balance included some $23 million of unamortized inventory step-up related to last year’s $2.16 billion Ann Inc. acquisition, which includes the Ann Taylor and Loft brands.
The plus-size arena holds much promise for Ascena, however. Research firm NPD found that in 2015, the plus-size market accounted for 17% of the U.S. women’s apparel market overall. Furthermore, U.S. sales of women’s plus-size apparel, which includes plus-size/full-figure, petite plus, and junior plus sizes, increased 5% in the 12 months ending February 2015 to $19.8 billion, and 3% in the 12 months ending February 2016 to $20.4 billion. To that end, Heasley (who joined Ascena in 2013 after leaving The Limited, where she had been promoted to CEO by private equity firm Sun Capital Partners when it bought the women's apparel retailer from L Brands) dedicated much of her efforts since taking over at Lane Bryant to destigmatizing plus-size fashion.
Given Ascena's opportunity and efforts to thrive in plus-size, C.L. King analyst Steven Marotta said that observers were looking for more from the company at its Jan. 18 investor day presentation. “Investors expected a a bigger reveal, something positive and tangible,” Marotta wrote in a note cited by the Post, adding that Heasley's departure “was seemingly abrupt. We don’t know if she was asked to leave or left for another opportunity.”