J. Crew’s Madewell brand on Wednesday confirmed to Retail Dive in an email that Libby Wadle has been promoted to CEO of the denim-focused banner.
The promotion is not just of Wadle herself, who has served as president of the brand since 2017, after serving as J. Crew brand president since 2013, but also represents the first time that Madewell has had a CEO position. She "will continue to have full responsibility over the Madewell business across all functions and teams, and serve as a member of the Office of the CEO of J.Crew Group," the company said in a statement.
Wadle "has been a key force behind Madewell’s strong fiscal results and growth trajectory over the last two years ... as Madewell is on track to becoming a $1 billion business under her leadership," the company also said. She's been at J. Crew Group since 2004 and was appointed to its executive team last year, according to a bio provided to Retail Dive. Prior to joining J. Crew, she was division vice president of women's merchandising at Coach Inc. from 2003 to 2004 and held merchandising positions at Gap Inc. from 1995 to 2003.
J. Crew itself may not have a CEO at the moment, but now its Madewell brand does.
The denim-focused brand has been the star of the show for a few years now, and the apparel company has leaned on its growth as its namesake brand slips. The retailer continues to battle the consequences of its $1.7 billion in debt, even after prevailing in a debt swap scheme last year, and is down to $25.7 million or so in cash, according to a press release.
The financial situation has reportedly prompted the company to seek out another round of debt restructuring after a dramatic debt swap scheme achieved last year. It also threatens efforts to revive its namesake brand and grow its smaller, but better-performing, sibling banner. Madewell under Wadle's leadership has proved to be a saving grace, with sales in the most recent quarter rising 16% to $157.9 million and comps rising 22% following last year's 19% fourth-quarter increase. While J. Crew is faltering by comparison — with a sales drop of 4% to $527.9 million and comps growth of only 6% — it remains by far the bigger operation.
For some observers, it's a backdrop to what could signal a bankruptcy filing or a spin-off of Madewell, or both, though none of that appears to be in the works at the moment.
"Sometimes companies, if they have divisions or brands that are more or less profitable, they might have to consider selling things off to raise cash," Pat Collins, a partner at Farrell Fritz with expertise in bankruptcy, restructuring and distressed retail, told Retail Dive in an interview last week. "And that might also spiral. You want to sell something that’s going to generate a return, but that impairs" operations further.
J. Crew has had its share of executive upheaval in the last year. Chief executive James Brett left in November after just over a year in the role, and Mickey Drexler, who served as CEO for 16 years, had remained as chairman of the board, but left that position in January.