Customers are Accusing J.Crew of Cutting Corners on Quality

Leah Bourne
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Fans of J.Crew’s classic ballet flat the Cece got a piece of good news when the retailer announced to newsletter subscribers late last year that the shoe, which had been discontinued in early 2014, was being brought back due to popular demand.

The good news proved short-lived, with many customers quickly noticing that the shoes weren’t actually the same, and complaining that the new Cece was of lower quality.

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Photo: J.Crew

The blog J.Crew Aficionado pointed out that the shoes had, in the past, been made in Italy, but are now being made in Brazil, all while still priced the same: at $125.

The blog’s writer compared the descriptions of the new shoes and the former versions:

New: We resurrected one of our most popular ballet flats from the J.Crew archives—and for good reason. With a cushioned insole for maximum comfort, a rubber sole for maximum flexibility and an elasticized topline so they hug your feet just so, they feel as good as they look. Suede upper. Elasticized topline. Cushioned insole, slight interior wedge. Rubber sole. Import.

Old: Beautifully styled in sumptuous suede (from Italy, of course). Our designers deliberated over every detail to ensure our ballets are the most comfortable you’ll ever wear, adding more padding, removing the shank and finishing them with an arch-hugging wedge. We think they’ve nailed it. Elasticized topline. Cushioned insole.Italian suede upper. Made in Italy.

Commenters on J.Crew had similar concerns. One from Colorado wrote:

I own 7 pairs of the original Cece flats, so I know how the original best-sellers fit and was so surprised when J.Crew stopped offering them. Pleased to see them offered once again, I ordered a pair in red leather. I noticed differences immediately: overly wide at the center, no reinforcing leather strip up the heel, a pieced sole rather than a solid one, 1/2 to 3/4 inch lower at the top of the heel, and no “Made in Italy” embossed on the insole. The resulting quality and fit are poor…excessive width makes them difficult to keep on when walking, the lower-hitting heel results in my heel slipping in and out, the original interior wedge has been replaced with an interior bump at the instep. How disappointing.

It’s shaky ground for J.Crew to be on considering that the retailer has always touted itself as being one of the few offering high-quality fabrics (some sourced from Italian mills, for instance), high design, and relatively affordable prices.

J.Crew’s CEO Mickey Drexler explained his success to CNBC in 2012 saying: “You can not give up on what is always good. You have to keep having a customer come back for what they expect to find.”

Let’s just hope this isn’t a sign of things to come for J.Crew as it tries to cut costs amid falling profits. The company reported a loss of $607.8 million, compared with a profit of $35.4 million a year earlier for the period ending in November.

The silver lining here is that Drexler also happens to be notorious for listening to customer feedback—he’s famous for responding to customers via e-mail or calling them to follow-up on concerns—so fans of the Cece, and J.Crew in general, are probably hoping he’s listening.

UPDATE: According to a representative from J.Crew, the re-released Cece is essentially exactly the same as the original design with the same sock, same upper, same materials (Italian leather), and same fit—the only difference is that the brand removed a pull tab in the back of the shoe because of customer feedback.

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