Claire Spofford is taking over the top job at J. Jill, stepping in as chief executive officer just as the retailer finds its financial footing in the coronavirus.
Spofford brings more than 20 years of retail experience to the job, having served most recently as president of Cornerstone Brands. Before that, she was chief marketing officer of J. Jill, giving her some hands-on experience at the company she will now lead.
She will officially take the reins by Feb. 15 from interim ceo Jim Scully, a retail veteran who stepped into the role in December and then quickly found himself navigating the company through a crisis.
Bankruptcy was a real possibility — and one that many other companies succumbed to — but Scully was able to keep the business afloat and continue to pay vendors while restructuring the company’s debt load out of court.
Strangely enough, J. Jill, which has its roots in a catalogue business and has drawn about 45 percent of its sales from the direct channel, might have been saved by a tough 2019. The company found itself with too much inventory last year and was already in clean-up mode and had new product coming in when the pandemic hit.
After drawn-out discussions, the company cut a deal last month with lenders pushing the due date on certain debts back two years, to May 2024, while also bringing in at least another $15 million in new capital.
That will give Spofford some runway as J. Jill faces the next leg of the pandemic.
“As we enter this next phase, we are excited to welcome Claire back to the J. Jill organization,” said chairman Michael Rahamim. “Claire’s extensive experience driving growth and profitability at respected retail companies coupled with her knowledge of our customer and brand make her the ideal candidate to lead the business forward. We look forward to building upon the legacy of this great brand.”
Rahamim also thanked Scully for his efforts and said that, despite the coronavirus, J. Jill had become “stronger both operationally and financially.”
In a statement, Spofford did not signal her plans for the company, but did point to the strength of its brand.
“J. Jill is a unique brand that is not only dedicated to helping women look great and feel good, but also to supporting women in the community, and I have a deep admiration and love for the brand and the important role it plays in women’s lives,” she said.
More from WWD: