Iconic Canadian Brand ‘JAC by JC’ Sees Explosion of Success by Moving Operations to China

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In 2012, Vancouver’s Oakridge Centre announced a substantial renovation which would begin with the addition of three new-build anchor stores. In 2014, Vancouver City Council approved the expansion which would see the project double the size of the existing retail square-footage and be rolled out over the course of many years with development finality in 2024. Along the way, there have been advancements and setbacks including the discovery of an underground aquifer in 2016. It was reported in Retail-Insider that the retail expansion of the centre, which is now owned by QuadReal, would be slightly smaller than expected but still dramatic, nonetheless.

Opening day launch of JAC by Jacqueline Conoir in Oakridge Centre

Since 2016 there have been numerous modifications to the original scope of the development, and with any large-scale shake-up there will be hard decisions to make. One retail business that would not be continuing as part of the development was Vancouver-based JAC by Jacqueline Conoir. Over 30 years, founder and lead designer RozeMerie Cuevas built Jacqueline Conoir into an iconic Canadian brand with numerous awards and recognitions in Fashion and Business and had doggedly pursued the development of a brand with a strong identity and continual growth.

In 2012, Cuevas launched JAC by Jacqueline Conoir  (“JAC by JC”) to capture the mid-to-upper youth market, away from the ‘business woman’ identity that collections up to that point had cultivated. JAC by JC incorporated relaxed silhouettes, incorporated higher quality fabric, and edginess. Launching a pop-up in July 2016 at Oakridge Centre, Cuevas created a foundation for the new JAC by JC label and brought in higher price-point items including double face coats, down coats, knits, and silk blouses. Two years later, JAC by JC’s pop-up lease was terminated due to the Oakridge expansion plan which saw long-term tenants offered first options on temporary retail spaces.

To visitors to Oakridge and the public in general, JAC by JC had shuttered and closed permanently, possibly caught up in the wave of closures affecting mid-range retailers due to the rise in fast fashion retailers and the resurgence of upscale luxury brands’ popularity with millennials. In reality, in 2018 Cuevas had already opened 100 retail stores in China with the support of an investor Bruce Li, whom she had met in Vancouver and developed a joint venture partnership within China.

“The Oakridge JAC store was difficult to close as it was performing very well and had attracted many loyal customers who were very sad to hear about the closure. The JAC brand was stronger than it had ever been. We had strong design and a production facility, making it ready for large-scale retail expansion across Canada,” says RozeMerie Cuevas from her office in E-Fashion Town, Hangzhou, China.

Retail-Insider’s west coast correspondent, Helen Siwak, traveled to China to interview Cuevas about JAC by JC’s retail presence in China and the developments that the company is making outside of fashion retail.

The JAC by JC headquarters in Hangzhou’s E-Fashion Town is modern and less than three years old. Measuring 20,000-square-feet over two floors, the lower level houses the design department, administration offices, and a large JAC by JC outlet. The second level includes the sales, customer service, and marketing department, online e-commerce platform, and the sample production room.

E-Fashion Town is a new district dedicated to the business of fashion in China and is traversable by foot or electric carts only. The area is a mix of new builds populated by top Chinese designers, Diction (the Chinese equivalent of WGSN trend forecasting analytics), JAC by Jacqueline Conoir, and an impressive exhibition centre, which Siwak and the JAC by JC team toured with Leon, President of E-Fashion Town. When completed the area will include a massive art and culture centre, additional business buildings, and will hold indoor/outdoor cultural events in the springtime.

Cuevas’ office is on the main floor framed by glass windows. From her position, she can oversee the design and pattern-making division, access the outlet, and hold meetings.

Siwak interviewed Cuevas while shadowing her during the busiest time of the retail cycle, the Spring/Summer 2019 Collection buying event, which saw owners and representatives from 101 stores converge on headquarters for two days of activities.

Presence in China

As of December 1, 2018, there are 101 JAC by JC retail stores in China – the corporation owns 30%, and 70% are franchises. Of these, 50% are owned by businesswomen, 35% by businessmen, and the remaining 15% owned by husband/wife couples.

The locations themselves range in size from 60-square-metres to 300-square-metres, are located in AAA shopping centres, with the company projecting an additional 40 locations by the end of 2019.

At the end of 2018, JAC by JC employed over 550 persons – 100 in headquarters, 150 in corporately owned stores, and 300 in the production facility.

Production in China

With the continuous growth in the number of stores opening and the expansion of the line to 150 styles released four times a year, the company decided that in 2017, JAC by JC would invest in a four-storey production facility. Cuevas asserts that “owning one’s own factory is mandatory to ensure quality production, efficiency, and timely deliveries.”

The completed production facility is unique in that it includes not only garment production space, inventory, and fabric storage, but also includes a large modern restaurant-style eating area, and a communal meeting room where team-building events take place and where the staff and management celebrate birthdays and other special occasions.

To further ensure the well-being of workers, the company built a four-storey residence where individuals can choose to share a studio living space with a friend or occupy a single room. Each room is furnished with ceramic tiling and laminate flooring throughout. When asked if this was the norm for the area, Cuevas responded that it was not, but these were elements that were important to her and her partner to provide for workers, of which many were from outside of the city, to feel comfortable.

In the five years that JAC by JC has been operational in China, the company and RozeMerie Cuevas, in particular, have received multiple acknowledgments, awards, and designations, and is operating and competing with the top Chinese designers. Her status in a foreign country as an icon and a women’s wear visionary continues with an invitation to be on the fashion panel division of the Zhiejing Merchants Associations formed by Jack Ma founder of Alibaba.

Next week Retail-Insider will publish Part II of Retail-Insider on Assignment in Hangzhou, China where we report on JAC by Jacqueline Conoir’s expansion plans for North America and future IPO.

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