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Jenna Lyons Leaves J.Crew

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Its the end of an era

This just in: Jenna Lyons, the woman behind J.Crew’s preppy-chic look, is leaving the brand. 

Despite its rise to massive popularity under Lyons, J.Crew’s sales have been dropping in recent years. Now, it’s trying to move in a different direction. Read more here

In other news, last week, Tadashi Yanai, the founder of Uniqlo and Japan’s richest man, told a Japanese newspaper that the brand would exit the US if Trump imposes any new taxes on foreign imports. Prices would go up, gutting one of Uniqlo’s big draws: affordability. “It would become meaningless to do business in the US,” Yanai said.

This is a hypothetical — a threat — but I’m still stuck on it, days later. Why? I can’t figure out how much Uniqlo leaving the US would actually mean. The answer seems to be both “a lot” and “not that much.”

“Not that much” in the sense that a lot of shoppers wouldn’t miss it. Uniqlo first came to the US in 2006 and has since then has only opened 51 stores here. Compare that to Sweden’s H&M, which touched down in the US in 2000 and now has 484 stores. Uniqlo has had a hard time winning over US shoppers, partly because enough people just don’t know or fully understand what it is yet — e-commerce aside, it’s only in 11 states, mostly coastal.

That said, it means a lot to Uniqlo and speaks volumes about what foreign retailers can achieve stateside. The US represents a massive swath of potential customers, and Uniqlo would be crazy to give that up — not that it’s eager to. The brand held a big presentation in New York last week, at which one exec told Business of Fashion, “We will win in America come hell or high water.” Clearly, being forced out of the US because of Trump's trade policy would be a big deal for Uniqlo, as it would for all of its landlords and employees here.

Retail is in a weird, bad place right now, for a host of non-Trump reasons. This would be a unique addition to that mess. — Eliza Brooke, senior reporter

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Feature
DEAR BRANDS, QUIT TRYING TO BE MY BEST FRIEND

The first time someone said “I love you” to me, I was 16. The words set off a maelstrom of emotion, including but not limited to: elation, intoxication and anxiety. The impact of those three little words hasn’t diminished, no matter how many times I’ve heard them since.

Then, just last week, I was riding the subway and I noticed an ad for a company called Capsule that described itself thusly: “A pharmacy where you’re more likely to hear ‘I love you’ than ‘next please.’” Now, like I said, I’m a sucker for a good “I love you.” But why on earth would I ever want my pharmacist to say it?

This is the kind of question I find myself asking more and more often, as brands and stores employ the kind of overly solicitous marketing messaging that not only leaves me cold, but creeps me out. It’s like that needy friend you had in high school who would ask you to go to the bathroom with her, just for company; or the guy you went on one date with who won’t stop calling you; or the cult leader that won’t stop banging down your door. 

Take a quick perusal of the About pages of fashion and lifestyle brands — particularly ones launched in the past few years — and you’ll notice the following words appear at a disturbing clip: “community,” “revolution,” “movement,” “empower,”and yes, “love.” Take, for instance, this, from lingerie startup Lively’s website: “Lively is not just about the products it offers, it is about a mindset we want to share with women around the world. One that reminds, empowers and enables us all to live life doing what we love, with the people we love!”

Or, from athleisure brand Kit & Ace: “We are working toward something bigger than ourselves – we are creating products and experiences that keep you moving forward.”

Or, from Free People: “Our sales team is in love with the Free People customer, and constantly searches for accounts who believe in our aesthetic and want us to be part of their lives.”

The message is basically: “Hey guys, we’re cool, we swear, and we’re totally not trying to sell you anything, just trying to facilitate a better world over here. Now, come buy some stuff you probably don’t need.”

Here’s the thing, though: I’m not looking for a best friend, or a confidante, and if I wanted to get involved in a cause greater than myself, I certainly wouldn’t be looking for it at a clothing store. So what gives? Why do companies think we’re into this stuff? It reminded me of something I read in consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow’s book, Decoding the New Consumer Mind: According to Yarrow, besides supplying us with the goods we need, shopping also fulfills an important social need. Since humans first began gathering, we’ve gone to the marketplace to connect with others. But now that many of us are shopping online — alone, right from our couch — we’re missing out on that sense of human connection. Which is why, perhaps, brands have found some success appealing to our hearts.

“People are really hungry for the antidote to their online world, and that antidote is more emotion wrapped up in their transactions,” explained Yarrow, who I caught up with last week. “Companies are making these emotional appeals, rather than rational appeals.”

Basically, the thinking is that American consumers feel so lonely and isolated that they’ve turned to the capitalistic companies trying to sell them things for love and friendship. Yep, we’re at that level. And it’s depressing as all get-out.

Another slightly less horrifying reason Yarrow thinks companies have amped up the overly-affectionate tone in which they speak to consumers is that  “trust is at very abysmally low levels right now.”

“If a business says ‘we love you, we care about you’ I think what they’re trying to communicate is that they are more trustworthy,” said Yarrow. “They’re trying to say, let down your guard, you can trust us because we love you.”

My reaction? Yuck. Yarrow tends to agree. “It’s so disingenuous,” said Yarrow. “Because a business is not a human being, a business cannot love anything or have emotion of any sort.” It’s really a shame we have to explain this to brands: You are not a revolution. You are not a lifestyle. You are not my best friend. You are a clothing brand. And I just want to buy a t-shirt, okay? —Hayley Phelan, contributing writer

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Most of the products I purchase during my drugstore pilgrimages are impulse buys that end up in the bin of tropical-scented bad decisions under my bathroom sink. But sometimes my shopping “me time” turns up a gem. Case in point: this holy grail of illuminating palettes that I picked up in the Wet n Wild section(!) for the ridiculously low price of $4.99.

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You Ask, We Tell
Melting weather is coming...

Speaking of shimmering shades, it's nearly that time of the year to begin figuring out how to walk outside without your face melting off. What's your biggest ~warm weather~ makeup worry? Email your questions to newsletter@racked.com and our shopping team will answer in Friday's edition. 

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