Jenna Lyons’ Tough Childhood Made Her A Better Manager

Jenna-Lyons-Career-PathAuthor: Meredith Lepore

Jenna Lyons, President and Chief Creative Officer for J.Crew, is gracing the cover of Fast Company this month because she is a major force to be reckoned with in the fashion industry. After all, Lyons has doubled the sales of J.Crew in the last seven years, resulting in a company valuation of $1.7 billion and has been the visionary force behind what has become known as the “cult of J.Crew“ (of which I have been a proud member since 1995). Anna Wintour said last spring, “J.Crew is a force to be reckoned with, and anyone who tells you otherwise is insane.” Those are some big words coming from arguably the most important woman in fashion.

In the interview, she talked about how she works with and manages so many creative people. And who better to manage a creative team then one of the most creative minds working today? From Fast Company:

“When something hasn’t been as beautiful as it can be, the reason is always bigger than the thing,” Lyons tells me afterward. Here, the reason was miscommunication between the stylists and the merchandisers. “At this stage, I’m like a glorified crossing guard,” says Lyons. “It’s like, try to keep people motivated, keep the traffic moving, keep people from getting stumped or stopped by a problem.”

“Managing creative people—not so easy,” she says. “A lot of emotion, a lot of stroking. Some people need tough love. Some people need a lot of love.” Above all is the challenge of managing in a subjective realm. “There’s no right or wrong answer,” says Lyons. “Whensomeone creates something and puts it in front of you, that thing came from inside of them, and if you make them feel bad, it’s going to be hard to fix, because you’ve actually crushed them.”

Lyons says a large part of the reason she is a good manager of this type of person is because she had a rather rough childhood followed by an awkward adolecense. Lyons was born with incontinentia pigmenti, a genetic disorder that led to scarred skin, patchy hair, and lost teeth, requiring dentures as a kid. Plus, she has been about six feet tall since she was a kid. Not exactly easy stuff for a girl to go through. But it definitely helps you realize how to be more sensitive. Ashley Sargent Price, who does art direction for J.Crew’s catalogs and website, toldFast Company, “She knows how to make you feel appreciated, even if you need to be redirected.”

Her awkward youth also helped her be a better designer over all. “I felt a huge drive to make clothes that everybody could have because I felt ostracized by that world of beauty and fashion. I never thought I would have a part in it. Never in a million years,” she told FC.

To finish reading this post, head on over to The Jane Dough.
To finish reading this post, head on over to The Jane Dough.

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