J.Crew’s Genius, Jenna Lyons Shares Her Success Tips

Jenna Lyons

Jenna Lyons has made the prestigious Vanity Fair International Best Dressed List, that’s basically the Oscar of the fashion world.

Perhaps little known in the celebrity world, Jenna Lyons is the famed wizard of the fashion industry, the visionary who single handedly transforming the previously preppy J. Crew catalogue, to it’s cult status. No easy feat in this congested market. The US designer has helmed J. Crew since 2008, becoming president of the brand in 2010. Some labels have chosen to attract attention to themselves with celebrity endorsements that verge on the ridiculous, case in point Rihanna in Matthew Dolan and Jennifer Lopez in Bao Tranchi

Jenna opted for the slow-cooked rise of the J.Crew label that focuses on appealing wearability, quality and national pride. FLOTUS, Michelle Obama has on a number of occasions endorsed J. Crew, highlighting the fact that it is an American brand worth supporting. Net-a-Porter’s support of the brand early on, was also a milestone in the rise of J. Crew.

 

Jenna Lyons

 

Jenna’s career was also slow cooked, Jenna’s J. Crew career began in 1993 when she was 21, landing a job at the brand straight out of prestigious design school Parsons. She started as an assistant designer in menswear, and Jenna learnt valuable lessons from that time.

 

On the most valuable lesson she would share…

“The thing I think is most important for young people to know is that today there’s this idea of having everything quickly, that you’re going to walk in the door, be a designer, and not have to do any of the grunt work. It’s just not realistic. The things you don’t learn in school are the skills you probably need more: what it’s like to work with other people, how you build a team and collaborate,” she said.

 

On her own start at the company …

“I was an assistant to someone’s assistant. I sat out in the hallway and I barely had a desk. My first day was hilarious. But one of the benefits of having started at the bottom is that I’m not afraid to push the brand. I’ve seen so much change, and I feel like I truly know where the brand came from. To me, it’s about evolving slowly.”

 

Jenna Lyons

 

On going with your gut…

Lyons admits that there is no magic formula for making sound business decisions, sometime you just need to go with your gut. “Honestly, it’s the thing that keeps me awake at night,”she told The Business of Fashion. “I swear if I had a formula for that, I would sell it,” she continued. “It’s just sort of looking at something and being like, ‘God, that looks too commercial,’ or ‘Wow, when you put all of those things together, it looks kind of boring.'”

 

On how to single yourself out in a busy work environment …

“The person who makes herself indispensable, that’s the person you want to promote. But when someone comes in and starts asking – it’s such a disease. You’re not going to get there just because you think you’re ready or because someone else got promoted. We don’t sit here and create a scale where we carefully ratchet everyone up evenly. Because if that were the case, we’d all be drones. No one is a drone… You are you.”

 

Jenna Lyons

 

On how to get that promotion…

“You want to get promoted? Do your job bigger. Think about everything you’re doing and do the best you can.’ That’s the thing that gets you to the next level. When you enjoy what you do, you’re probably nice, you’re probably thoughtful, you’re probably listening to other people’s ideas, you’re probably thinking outside the box because you want to make things better – you end up doing the things to get you to that level without even realising it’s happening.”

 

On how career opportunities can come from the most unexpected of situations…

Lyons told Marie Claire UK that some of her biggest career breaks came during moments of flux. “Things were swelling up underneath me, and I was always sitting on the raft. I ended up having insane opportunities.”

 

Jenna Lyons

 

On not being starstruck by opportunities that you are not prepared for…

Sometimes even though an opportunity sounds amazing, you have to realize that if you rush and don’t put in the time and effort it requires it could damage your career. As Liz Doupnik of StyleCaster wrote, “We love the fact that someone is standing up to the ridiculous timelines designers are expected to adhere to and adamantly refusing to sacrifice the quality of their work. Plus, what’s worse than having a dress show up on a Worst Dressed List? We think next to nothing.”

 

On a feel good moment …

“I remember getting an incredible letter years ago from a woman who was a stem cell research scientist,” she recalls fondly. “She had to give a talk and she had never spoken in public before. She was incredibly nervous. She had gone to J Crew to get an outfit for her talk… On the way up to the podium, three people told her how fantastic she looked. That to me is what it’s all about. That person, whose life focus is somewhere else and [who is] doing something bigger than fashion… in that moment, you’re making her feel good and special and that’s just as important to me as Michelle Obama wearing the clothes. It’s more meaningful because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I did not feel comfortable in the way I looked and dressed. I can relate to that feeling.”