110 – James Rhee of Ashley Stewart – When Underdogs Win

James Rhee on building a fashion brand as social commerce …

James Rhee

James Rhee [link], Executive Chairman and CEO, Ashley Stewart [link] (the number one fashion brand for plus size fashion and trends) and Founder/President, FirePine Group [link] (an investment firm which invests in special situations requiring structured capital and operational catalysts, with a particular focus in the rapidly transforming, branded retail-consumer product industry), joins Pavan Bahl, Rob Sanchez, and guest host Ilan Tito on location at the 2016 SHOPTALK retail and ecommerce event in Las Vegas.

Amazing turnaround

Rhee discusses the history of the company and its extraordinary turnaround, its original focus on plus-size African American women and unprofitable, stormy business history, how Rhee saw it as the most powerful single business brand ever and loved what it stood for. His background as a high school teacher, how he became the man in charge of a company near collapse, the old roach infested warehouse now occupied by Rent the Runway, the WiFi pushback and being unable to ship goods, business suicide, when a brand can make someone cry, how Rhee didn’t want it to go away, and overcoming great adversity.

Empathy, social commerce, and communication

Spending time in stores and obtaining info and input directly from customers, being very open with customers, operating with empathetic CRM, pushing financials to reflect the customer’s rhythms, the overlooked plus size market and having presence in urban areas. Seeing underdogs win, focusing on underserved customers and authentic content, running a social commerce business, and giving people their chance like reality TV and auditions. Systems and the back end, the communication flow to team/vendors, introducing the brand person by person, how the company had substance, product affordability and being on trend, how people deal with overcoming an Asian American man with private equity background running a woman’s fashion brand, why Rhee’s job is to find someone who is better than him, the emotional hook, why fashion is a great unifier, and the importance of respect, friendship, and loyalty.

Fashion DNA, a single voice, and “Up”

How much the structure of clothing matters, whether the brand had a fashion DNA from the beginning, turning the stock seven times annually, and hedging out risk operationally. How much technologies matter to the brand vs. being the best at “being her best friend”, and being digital but social. Rhee reveals how everyone is forced to learn the entire business, the brand’s one voice, monetizing loyalty, and being “chill”. Off the Grid Questions covers free advice, ego, being inspired by an incurable disease, winning, daily picnics, constant feedback, and “Up”.


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