Tweedy’s Second Coming at Sean John

early three years after his abrupt departure from Sean John, Jeffrey Tweedy has returned to the lifestyle apparel label.

NEW YORK — Nearly three years after his abrupt departure from Sean John, Jeffrey Tweedy has returned to Sean “Diddy” Combs’ lifestyle apparel label, taking on the role of executive vice-president of brand development and licensing. 

Tweedy, whose second stint started last Thursday, was part of the original Sean John family, serving as the label’s executive vice-president since its inception in spring 1999. 

“I’m really excited to be back at a brand that I helped found,” said Tweedy, who was so eager to return to his old stomping grounds he didn’t even take a day off between jobs. “Now I’m ready to finish what I started.” 

Tweedy left Sean John just before MAGIC in February 2005 and had a short stint as president of Beyonce Knowles’ House of Dereon line that fall. He joined G-III Apparel as president of the company’s sportswear division in December 2005, and is credited for launching the successful young men’s urban label Exsto at Wal-Mart. No replacement has yet been named for Tweedy at G-III. 

“It’s great to have Jeff back at Sean John,” said Combs, in a statement. “He was here in the very beginning and his return to the company on the eve of our 10th anniversary will only help us to grow the brand both domestically and internationally.” 

Charged with brand development, Tweedy has lofty goals for Sean John, including international growth and expanding its women’s offerings. The company currently has a license (with G-III) for a juniors collection, but Tweedy believes there is opportunity to up the ante with women’s shoes, accessories and handbags. 

In addition, Tweedy will oversee the company’s current stable of licenses—14 at last count—requires plenty of relationship management to achieve a “seamless experience for the consumer.” 

Sean John continues to search for a replacement for CEO Robert Wichser, to whom Tweedy will report. Wichser, an apparel industry veteran who joined the company after Tweedy departed, was last month tapped as a principal at The Yucaipa Cos., which holds a significant minority stake in Sean John. 

“We are excited to have Jeff rejoin the company,” said Wichser, in a statement. “He has a great passion for marketing and truly understands the aesthetic of the Sean John brand.” 

Much has changed at Sean John since Tweedy last served as Combs’ right-hand man. Although Tweedy led Sean John to explosive growth under his tenure—the company’s reported volume was at $450 million when Tweedy left—the operations of the company needed significant refurbishing. 

With Wichser at its helm, Sean John quelled its customers’ back-office complaints with improved sourcing, shipping and customer service. The company also shuttered several tertiary labels, including J.C. Penney’s Bad Boy brand, and Combs’ fledgling contemporary women’s label, Sean by Sean John. 

A collection of new licenses, in categories such as eyewear, underwear and fragrances, have padded the Sean John portfolio, which will reportedly achieve $500 million to $525 million at retail in 2007. But changes have been rife in the rest of the young men’s industry as well. As Sean John solidified its department store relationships, many up-and-coming streetwear labels took over its former real estate at urban specialty stores. 

Combs has acknowledged that the specialty store business is one that needs to be reinvigorated, but Tweedy emphasized that the brand’s department store relationships are just as valuable. “The biggest challenge is not so much the distribution partners, but continuing to stay relevant within the collection,” he said. “The young men’s urban business has changed dramatically. This guy is more far more sophisticated and fashion-conscious than he used to be. You can’t just give him a logo and a baggy pair of pants. You have to have some style sensibility.” 

Young men aren’t the only part of this equation; while Sean John originated as a young men’s brand, the label now spans a much broader audience. In fact, its long-standing customer is now nearly 10 years older than when he made his first Sean John purchase. “The guy that first bought the brand is a lot more mature now,” said Tweedy. “We have to continue to secure him as a customer, and grow with him.”