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Marketing the Rainbow

Case Study: J.Crew

branche: Fashion

Article last updated Jul 13, 2021

The beginning: Jenna Lyons

Early 2011, J.Crew was under fire by conservative media outlets for an advertisement featuring its creative director and president, Jenna Lyons (who landed her first job at J.Crew when she was 21), painting her son's toenails pink. Beneath the picture was a quote that read, "Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink." Fox News called the picture "blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children." Some people were of the opinion that J.Crew was challenging traditional gender identity roles, although author Jo B. Paoletti said that it was "no big deal". The picture started a meme with people (often men) painting their nails pink in support of Jenna. 

The wedding

In 2012 Out magazine wrote: "J. Crew’s website has always had a bridal section, but this time there's no bride!" Two guys, Benjamin & Ray, tied the knot in an 11th-century chateau in the south of France. This picture-perfect wedding was the first same-sex wedding editorial featured on the "Wedding Album section" of the J. Crew site. This was 3 years before same-sex weddings became legal in the US. 

Later that year Jenna came out as lesbian, amidst what was called "a messy divorce". It wasn't until early 2013 that she appeared with her new love interest, Courtney Crangi, in their first public photos shoot and in an interview with V-magazine. "Looking like two teenagers in love”.

In April 2017, her departure from J.Crew was announced after two years of declining sales. Together with CEO and chairman Millard Drexler she was instrumental in helping J.Crew triple its revenue from $690 million in 2003 to $2 billion in 2011. While in 2013, Lyons had been referred to as the "Woman Who Dresses America", in 2017, The New York Times commented that "the face of the brand became the symbol of its fall."

17 lesbians
17 gays

Gay parents

In 2017 Matteo and Hai became the new faces of J.Crew's Christmas campaign. They are the proud dads of daughter Isabella. Matteo and Hai at that time had been together for 13 years and were married in 2008. They became dads to their daughter, Isabella, when she was just one day old.

The same campaigns brought us Grayson alongside his moms Kristin and Lisa.

Love Inc wrote: "In an industry that’s largely heteronormative, the push for a more diverse and inclusive representation of people has been slow, but we’re starting to see more and more brands include the LGBTQ community. And throughout the years, J.Crew has often been at the forefront of the discussion when it comes to diversity."


In the same year LGBT advocates praised J.Crew after the brand featured a gay couple in its newest catalog. The chain's "designer Somsack and his boyfriend, Micah" posed in a feature entitled "The Highlight Reel: the latest collection, modeled by some of our favorite guys and those they hold nearest and dearest," along with other impromptu models like J.Crew's in-house stylist and his baby boy, the head of the design team and his dog and the photographer's husband and their tween daughter. Real, live, normal people! Just like us!

Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck Combs, commented: "I am loving it. Obviously, it's time to bring them out and it's exciting." He noted that the ad doesn't sexualize the couple and speaks to a more "self-aware audience." J.Crew declined to comment on the image.

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18 pride c

2018 Pride: Love First & Love for All

To kick off Pride Month in 2018, J.Crew and its sub-brand Madewell designed "the perfect tees to wear to every pride parade this month (and beyond)". While the tees were definitely cute, the best part was that 50% of each sale goes to the Human Rights Campaign. J.Crew's version was emblazoned with the words "Love first," while Madewell's iteration says "Love to all" in a cute rainbow pattern. Plus, there were also socks and totes.

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19 Pride a
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2019 Pride

Similar collections were presented in the Stonewal 50 Jubilee year, 2019. Again the brands had their own slogan. Celebrities like Zosia Mamet featured in the campaign.  

One blogger wrote: "J.Crew is setting the standard amongst other leaders using their voices. #LoveFirst features stories of diversity, each expressing what #Pride means to them. Mixing pop culture with product sales with consumer engagement with compelling storytelling with a charity give-back. And 50% of the proceeds go to the Human Rights Campaign."

2020 Pride

The next year we saw another range of Love First merchandise, with part of the proceeds going to the HRC.

A campaign on social media mentioned the different circumstances due to the pandemic.  

Nate Berkus & Jeremiah Brent
Nate Berkus & Jeremiah Brent
Maurice Harris
Maurice Harris
Raquel Willis
Raquel Willis
Crystal Anderson & Kiesh
Crystal Anderson & Kiesh
DeVonn Francis
DeVonn Francis

2021 Pride

For the 2021 Love First campaign, J.Crew invited gay fathers and designers Nate Berkus & Jeremiah Brent (who also featured in a Tiffany campaign in 2015), "beauty creator' Maurice Harris, activist and media strategist Raquel Willis, event producers Crystal Anderson & Kiesh, and chef and artist DeVonn Francis.

"The meaning of Pride changed when we had kids. It was no longer just pride for ourselves and our community, but also creating a world where our children feel seen, heard and accepted." - Nate & Jeremiah.

50% of all sales were donated to PFLAG for a year. 


J.Crew Group, Inc., is an American multi-brand, multi-channel, specialty retailer. The company offers an assortment of women's, men's, and children's apparel and accessories, including swimwear, outerwear, lounge-wear, bags, sweaters, denim, dresses, suiting, jewelry, and shoes. It operated more than 506 retail stores throughout the United States. They are also present internationally in Canada, France, the UK, and Hong Kong. Additionally, the company runs 76 locations in Japan. 


J.Crew has consistently and respectfully paid attention to the LGBT community, in collaboration with different charities - HRC and PFLAG. A job well done!

On May 4, 2020, the company announced that it would apply for bankruptcy protection amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, although they had amassed enormous debt even before the outbreak. In August they received court approval of a plan that would keep the company alive by shedding debt and handing control of the business to lenders. Libby Wadle, formerly heading sub-brand Madewell, was appointed as the new CEO in Novemeber 2020. She announced a course back to quality products, away from discounts.