Madewell CEO Libby Wadle on the future of denim and retail

Madewell CEO Libby Wadle knows how to stand up to the challenge.

September 18, 2019, 1:02 PM
Madewell CEO Libby Wadle with ABC News' Rebecca Jarvis
Madewell CEO Libby Wadle with ABC News' Rebecca Jarvis
Taylor Dunn

Libby Wadle is a seasoned professional in the retail industry.

She joined the J. Crew Holdings Group in 2004 and helped launch the label's denim brand, Madewell, two years later. What was once a boutique denim retailer has turned into a company that made over $600 million in sales in the 2018 fiscal year and operates over 130 stores across the U.S.

Madewell announced mid-September its plans to spinoff from parent company, J.Crew, and go public under the new name, Madewell Group.

While Madewell and Wadle cannot and has not commented to ABC on the IPO filing as the company is in a quiet period, prior to the announcement Wadle told ABC News' Rebecca Jarvis on an episode of "No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis," "Public, private I've worked in both scenarios before, and at the end of the day you're on the hook for the customer and still listening to the customer. I think being a public company there's less patience, although I think that there are new business models out there, and new ways of looking at the business that are really relevant to how the customer's shopping today, there's more awareness out there."

Upon joining the J. Crew Group, Wadle had an impressive retail resume having held executive positions at Coach and The Gap Inc. and getting to learn from former CEO Mickey Drexler.

With years of experience under her belt and a strong team supporting her, Wadle said she felt ready to raise her hand and ask for more responsibility by stepping in and helping start Madewell.

"It didn't feel risky to me, it felt like this is exciting and I know that I'm on a good track with my current business and I have a great strong team of people building the brand from the very beginning," Wadle said. "I was able to really focus 100% of my time on driving that business forward."

In 2017, Wadle was named president of the Madewell Brand, and in April 2019 she was promoted to CEO. Serving as the head officer of the company meant Wadle had to know how to manage an expanding company.

"I manage people the way they need to be managed individually and I don't have like a one size fits all approach," Wadle said. "You can't expect that everyone sort of conforms to how you want to lead and manage."

Her leadership style proves to be working as the company continues to expand. While growth is evident, Wadle wants to make sure Madewell stays patient with their initiatives and keeps storefronts at the center of their approach as the future of retail is constantly changing.

"No fit technology can replace the experience you have trying on and having that dialogue with either your friend that you're shopping with or the person who's helping you," Wadle said. "There are categories of business where it's all about the convenience of it, but I think especially with regards to denim and that connection with a community and a brand, we don't have a ton of stores, but they are the hub of the Madewell community, and I think they will be still a key part of the business."

Hear more from Madewell CEO Libby Wadle on episode #129 of "No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis."