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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Plus Size Fashion Recovery

Not many businesses can recover from bankruptcy, let alone two.  But Ashley Stewart, a plus size fashion brand, not only avoided cashing in its chips, but has also staged a remarkable reinvention – emerging as a formidable player in the plus size fashion industry.

It’s an unlikely success story. Just a little over a year ago, Ashley Stewart had filed for bankruptcy for the second time in a little over three years. Investors weren’t eager to join the fray, and survival was unlikely given the graveyard of much larger retailers who filed and then liquidated, not to mention Ashley Stewart’s storied, unprofitable past.

But that was then.  Today, profits are at unprecedented levels, with an explosive ecommerce platform and a newly authored business model deeply rooted in digital marketing, social media and a mission-based commitment to the customer. It’s the rebirth of a brand.  Not bad for a company that did not even have WI-FI eighteen months ago.    

Sometimes, when one model doesn’t work, it needs to be knocked down to make way for another. Under the visionary leadership of James Rhee, a long-time successful investor-turned-Executive Chairman and CEO, Ashley Stewart re-imagined its business model and transformed a failed brick-and-mortar company into a high-growth global brand with multi-channel distribution and a cutting-edge digital marketing and ecommerce strategy.  Chief Merchandising Officer Kristen Gaskins rejoined the company to reinvigorate the assortment of the fashion-forward clothing line.  Clearlake Capital stepped in and backed Rhee’s vision financially. 

So how does a twice-bankrupt, plus-size fashion brand reach record growth and unprecedented profitability in just one year? By knocking down the walls, literally. James Rhee, the Executive Chairman/CEO of Ashley Stewart and Founder/President of FirePine Group wasn’t afraid to re-envision the brand by reinventing a failed business model through technological, algorithmic and cultural innovation. 

Rhee, Harvard graduate and long-time successful investor, had so much faith in the iconic but troubled brand that he resigned from his position on the board and jumped in as its leader six months before the bankruptcy filing, breathing new life into the brand, authoring a novel plan and securing the financial backing of Clearlake Capital.  Under his leadership, Ashley Stewart has emerged as a real force in the new digital economy with a strategy, management team, corporate culture, and digital marketing effort built for the long term.  This has propelled Ashley Stewart to become one of the world’s most engaged brands.  All with one overriding message: innovation and kindness, and a mission-based dedication to the customer.

Rhee’s philosophy is grounded in algorithms, lean processes and technology, but with a heavy dose of compassion and empathy. Ashley Stewart’s new headquarters is an open space that promotes the free exchange of ideas, a sense of ownership, and an atmosphere that’s both cohesive and friendly. There are no executive offices.  Under his passionate leadership, Ashley Stewart has committed itself to engaging with customers in a unique and deeply personal way.

“We have rewritten the business model and operations from scratch.  We have taken no shortcuts,” says Rhee, “We are making long-term investments in the most important assets – our people, our customer, and our brand.  We fought tooth and nail for the survival of a brand that empowered a core customer base deserving of a voice.  What we achieved was perhaps one-in-a-million, and it was all driven by a mission to finally give due to Ashley Stewart and every woman she has touched since 1991. Whatever the future holds, I know that we have a team and philosophy that is finally worthy of serving the brand and our customer.” 

A lot has changed since Ashley Stewart first launched in the early 1990’s, but one thing has stayed the same: its commitment to fashionable plus-sized women everywhere (or “divas,” as they call themselves).

Plus Size Fashion Model Diva
More than ever, Ashley Stewart is committed to staying true to its customers and staying relevant by listening to their needs.  With a community-centered approach, Ashley Stewart hosts events in-stores such as the national #LoveYourCurvesTour and engages with its customers through its market-leading social media efforts.  The company has stepped up its philanthropic efforts, empowering its stores to give back to local charitable causes and funding two scholarships with the United Negro College Fund.

Most recently, the company launched a line of plus size lingerie (#DaretoBareSM) and Ashley TV.
Ashley Stewart has been reborn by simultaneously going back to its roots and embracing innovation, catapulting a neighborhood store into an iconic global brand.

This is of huge significance for the plus size industry as one its leaders makes such a huge resurgence.

About Ashley Stewart: Ashley Stewart has captured the hearts and minds of curvy women since its founding in 1991 in Brooklyn, New York.  Today, Ashley Stewart offers the hottest looks with stores across the United States, a rapidly growing and global ecommerce presence at www.AshleyStewart.com, and an industry-leading social media presence.  Ashley Stewart stands for uncompromising style, fashion, fit and empowerment for the trend-savvy woman who flaunts her curves. From the perfect pair of jeans to churchflow dresses, smoking hot outfits to #DaretoBare intimates, Ashley Stewart has you covered.
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