A Talk with Andrea Hyde, Former CEO of French Connection USA and Co-Founder of Draper James
The Georgetown Retail and Luxury association and the Georgetown Marketing association were proud to host Andrea Hyde, the former CEO of French Connection USA and Reese Witherspoon’s co-founder of Draper James, on the 30th of January. She spoke about her impressive and diverse career, gave tips for entering into today’s retail industry, and talked about what our generation must know about finding their voice.
Andrea Hyde started her career interning at Calvin Klein, and went on to the executive training program at Estee lauder. She then moved to work for GAP from 1990 to 1995, where she took part in the founding of Old Navy. She spoke about GAP’s incredible success, being one of the first low price point yet high-quality brands. She humorously stated that before GAP’s time, ‘if you weren’t spending money on clothes, you weren’t living good. You were wearing a polyester hookup’. After working at GAP Andrea held multiple impressive jobs, including working for in Global Marketing and Communications at Kenneth Cole’s movie production company in London, and working for French Connection in London where she rose up in the company.
By just 35, Andrea was the CEO of French Connection USA. She admitted to feeling unprepared for this position at first, and spoke about the insecurities that came with feeling like the youngest person in the room. However, she quickly adapted to this position through experiential learning, and executed important business decisions such as stopping the production of French Connection’s classic ‘fcuk’ t-shirt in the US, as she realized it was, quite humorously, being misinterpreted. She laughed as she stated that ‘geography isn’t America’s strong suit’. She also touched on the hardship that comes with making these hard decisions, saying that although she loved being a CEO, it is ‘overrated’.
After her time at French Connection, she worked for Christopher Burch, who had started a brand called ‘C-wonder’. She spoke about this experience as a great learning experience, where she gained knowledge about the dangers of over-expanding. She told us that Christopher Burch created C-wonder as somewhat of a revenge brand to Tory Burch, and he unsustainably expanded the brand to 18 stores in 18 months, which led its later downfall. She described how what she learnt from this experience helped her grow Draper James at a sustainable pace.
When Reese Witherspoon first approached Andre Hyde for her help to build Draper James, Andrea told us that she was hesitant at first, but was quickly intrigued by Reese’s strong authentic vision for the lifestyle brand that was aimed at attracting a southern audience. She decided she was very interested in the brand, and co-founded it with Reese all the way from its inception to consumption. She attributed Draper James’ success to Reese’s strong vision, its sustainable growth, and the attention given to the customer. Moreover, she talked about the importance of making the brand have longevity, as although it is tied to Reese Witherspoon, it was created in such a way that it will be able to outlive her.
When Andrea was asked about her interests in emerging industries, she was extremely intrigued with the wellness sector, and stated that there is a lot yet to be discovered in this market. Moreover, she stressed how much she gained from working in both small and large companies, and recommended that we try both of these different experiences. Her additional advice to anyone interested in working in retail was the importance of using the internet as a great source for finding contacts, networking, and having a lot of persistence. Overall, Andrea Hyde was a captivating speaker with an extremely impressive career, and a great source of both knowledge and advice.