On the same day TikTok’s first foray into livestream shopping dropped, its U.S. chief executive officer Kevin Mayer said he’s resigning. One may have nothing to do with the other, but the timing looks unfortunate.
Mayer revealed the move late Wednesday night, after 100 days on the job.
He explained his reversal in a message to employees, which was reviewed by WWD. “In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for,” he wrote. “Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company.”
A former chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, Mayer was also chief operating officer of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance. He joined the social video company in May.
A spokeswoman echoed the now-former TikTok ceo’s message in a statement provided to WWD: “We appreciate that the political dynamics of the last few months have significantly changed what the scope of Kevin’s role would be going forward, and we fully respect his decision.”
Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s general manager in North America, will step into the role of interim head.
The app, a favorite target of the Trump administration, has become embroiled in the White House’s tensions with China. U.S. officials have cast the popular short video platform as a national security threat, due to its ownership by Beijing-based ByteDance.
Earlier this month, President Trump issued a set of executive orders that banned transactions with the app and required ByteDance to sell its interests in the U.S. business unit by mid-November.
On Monday, TikTok revealed that it’s suing the Trump administration, arguing that the move is unconstitutional.
Mayer’s note suggests that he’s been caught flat-footed by the escalating drama. As for the “resolution” the business expects to reach soon, as he mentioned, that could indicate TikTok is on the brink of an agreement. Both Microsoft and Oracle have expressed interest in acquiring the app.
The news arrives on the same day TikTok unleashed its first shoppable livestream via a fashion collaboration with video shopping platform Ntwrk and artist Joshua Vides.
Vides’ limited-edition apparel went out through a set of exclusive drops, with a small set of items hitting TikTok users first before going out more broadly to attendees of Ntwrk’s virtual design festival, Transfer, on Wednesday.
In a conversation with WWD, a TikTok spokeswoman explained that the deal “is a bullet point under our strategy to further our place in culture, which is why we chose such a Millennial-focused platform like Ntwrk to work with. And then [we worked] with them to identify the right artists that really embodies the spirit and motivations for TikTok as a tipping point.”
Clearly, fashion is pivotal in its effort to stake out a place for itself in culture, and it has been making gains there. The social video app — which is used by 800 million people worldwide, 100 million of whom are in the U.S. and include some of social media’s top influencers — was making headway in courting the highest echelons of designer fashion such as Gucci, Dior and Balenciaga. It also began helping brands create TikTok-able content.
The question now is whether maisons and other luxury-makers, which often have a reputation for being risk-averse, will make any serious investments in a platform with such an uncertain fate. Mayer’s sudden departure may not help matters.
For now, at least, the brands don’t appear to be shying away from the app. But it’s a game of wait-and-see. And the real threshold for TikTok’s fashion ambitions will come once an acquisition deal materializes and, perhaps, once the new owner is identified.