Fashion/Business: Q&A with Libby Wadle ’94

As an Eagle, she majored in English. Post-graduation, she took her own advice: Follow something that excites you. Here, Libby Wadle ’94, the CEO at J.Crew Group, answered our questions—in style—from her home office in Brooklyn, surrounded by her three dogs.

Libby Wadle ’94

Q: You started as CEO at J.Crew Group in 2020, an unprecedented time in the retail industry and life in general. What were your strategies for staying grounded and focused, personally, and professionally?

A: Becoming CEO at the onset of a pandemic was a challenge, but through it, I was really focused on keeping our team’s life-work balance top of mind. As a working parent, I felt those pressures too, so it was critical to figure out.

One of the hardest things to lose during the pandemic was human connection. I used to thrive off of impromptu conversations and connections throughout the office and stores. With teams being isolated, having those moments to connect really went a long way in keeping us grounded and balanced.

Ultimately, the beauty of this experience was that it reminded us of what really matters. As CEO, I’ve used that perspective to look to where we can strengthen community, wellness, and life-work balance, and we’ve worked hard to formally build that in for associates. 

Q: How hands-on are you in choosing the clothing and accessories that J.Crew and Madewell sell?

I’m still a merchant at heart, so I love being involved in the creative process on some level, finding new ways to create more sustainably, getting to know our customers, and using materials and products that will excite her.

Q: When you were young, what did you want to “be” when you grew up? Are there aspects about that vision that connect to what you are doing now?

A: As a kid I wanted to make my own money to fund my love of shopping and clothes! I discovered my early love of retail and helping customers from my first job at the mall and then eventually as a salesperson during college at a store in the Chestnut Hill Mall. 

I’ve been in retail my entire working life. I was a trainee for a merchandising program at a great brand soon after I graduated. I loved learning about the business side of retail and discovering what was exciting to customers.

There can be a lot of pressure to set our career path after high school and the truth is we don’t always know. I’ve found it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Q: What experiences at BC gave you the tools to get on the track to success?

A: I went to college to study English because I’ve always loved books and great writing. I may not have traveled a linear journey, but those storytelling skills are now some of the sharpest tools I have. And for building new brands and reenergizing great brands, storytelling and building a narrative is critical!

As CEO, one of my biggest roles is as chief communicator. I must communicate in a way that builds trust, stability, and inspiration. I’m grateful for the grounding my degree and experience at BC have given me.

Q: What advice would you give BC students, particularly women, who are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their futures?

A: Follow something that excites you and just run with it! You have to push into what makes you nervous and take the opportunities to find the things that will inspire you and give you life. I always raised my hand for an opportunity and tried new things or took on more responsibility, even when I didn’t feel ready for it.

Q: What is a fashion trend you wish never went away? What’s something in your closet you will never get rid of?

A: My advice is don’t follow trends. A capsule of classics with a few occasional fun pieces are the items that will live in your closet forever. Especially these days, with conscious consumption and sustainability being top of mind, you really have to buy what you love—and what you love should last for years.

I have a great cashmere coat from J.Crew that is at least 10 years old, but will never go out of style and so will always be in my closet. I love a great jean, so I’d be remiss to not mention my absolute favorite pair of Perfect Vintage Jeans from Madewell. Quality material and a classic cut will withstand any trend, and of course, denim is forever.

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