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Departures at Jack Wills amid concerns about its direction

Around 15 directors, heads of department and managers are understood to have left Jack Wills over the last six to eight months, amid concerns over the direction of the preppy young fashion retailer.

Drapers understands staff in finance, design, sourcing, merchandising, ecommerce, property, production and recruitment have left, while issues have been raised regarding a series of changes in approach and a “general lack of clarity about where the business is going”.

In response, Jack Wills said it has had a clear strategy over the past five years, which has not changed. It said staff turnover was at its lowest level for two years and that in its most recent internal survey, 95% of all employees agreed that they understood its aims and objectives.

But it acknowledged that there has been some turnover, including five members of senior staff and a number at a level below this. Three members of staff are understood to be working out their notice.

One source told Drapers: “There has been a huge turnover of staff in senior roles and underneath that, which has been clearly visible for the last year or so. It has become such a mess and it feels like it has hit a brick wall, which is what caused people to resign.”

Another source close to the situation said: “There have been that many changes in strategy and it has lost its entrepreneurial edge. They were trying to do too much too soon and things like moving the distribution centre [from London to Sheffield in September 2014] was a bit of a disaster.

“It feels like we have lost that core customer for gilets and hoodies, but there is a question mark around where to take the brand. Is it fashion? Is it core basics? Is it aiming at 20-year-olds or younger?”

One source suggested Jack Wills co-founder Peter Williams stepped back from the business too quickly when he took up a non-executive role on October 9, 2013. He was replaced by Wendy Becker, a former Vodafone marketing boss who joined Jack Wills as chief operating officer in September 2012 and stepped up to become chief executive in October 2013.

Williams and fellow co-founder Robert Shaw continue to own 70% of the business, with private equity group Inflexion holding a 27% stake since 2007.

However, a spokesman for the company said sales have continued to grow every year since it was founded in 1999 and both core areas of branded products and more fashion-led categories continued to increase. He said Williams remains a “supportive” director of the board.

He added: “Jack Wills is in great shape. It remains a growth business with a great young brand for casualwear, pursuing global opportunities. Our ambition has evolved but not changed.”

According to the latest results filed at Companies House, Jack Wills made sales of £117.7m for the year to February 2, 2014, up 5.1% from the previous year. Company earnings, as measured by EBITDA, have grown for the third consecutive year, it said.

London Fashion Week designer Richard Nicoll was appointed as creative director in February 2014 and presented a well-received spring 15 range for Jack Wills earlier this year.  Nicoll has recently decided to commit more time to Jack Wills to lead its further expansion and is not currently designing his own brand.

“Our spring collection has been very well received, the business has good momentum and our people are fully behind our ambitious plans,” said the Jack Wills spokesman.

The retailer, which refinanced last year, has 83 stores globally, including 61 in the UK and Ireland, as well as owned stores in Asia and the US and four franchise stores in the Middle East.

Other departures over the last three years include chief financial officer Emily Tate, who left in 2014, creative director Sarah Holme, international boss Tim Patten, sourcing chief Glen Tinton and human resources director Helena Feltham, who left in 2013, and finance director Paul Woolf and head of UK stores Liz Hall, who both left in 2012.

Former USC director and Next head of brands Emma Alexander was appointed to the newly created role of chief product officer in November.

@Tara_Hounslea

Readers' comments (6)

  • Another example of a brand being ruined by the appointment of a chief exec with no fashion heritage. This used to be a great brand with a very strong identity and I hope they get it back

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  • Interesting you say Emma Alexander was head of brands at Next - does it count If you are only in a job for 6 weeks ? Next definitely has the best product people - just look at how many Marks and Spencer have taken !

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  • This brand should of aimed higher and taken on Burberry. It is more unique, youthful and cooler than Burberry. Jack Wills still has a little sparkle, just needs polishing up and displaying in the halls of Eton again...

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  • there is no direction to head in other than what they do and have done since they started its a british version of ralph laurens version of English heritage

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  • Jack Wills are indicative of many other brands who have CEO's who have no idea of what they are doing, yet always seem to get employed.

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  • The problem is that it's aimed at students but now their Dads are wearing it! So it's lost it's unique edge. Needs a major change to move it on and reclaim it's core customer.

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