This story was originally part of the 2023 Glossy 50 feature. Click here to see all of this year’s honorees.
CEO Jennifer Wong wants to make Aritzia an even bigger industry star.
The Vancouver-based fashion retailer has recently experienced exceptional growth, going from $857 million in the fiscal year ending in February 2021 to $2.3 billion in sales three years later. Fueling that success has been the company’s increased prowess in digital channels, expansion in the U.S. and organic virality on TikTok, where #aritzia has 2.1 billion views.
Two of the three have been actively driven by Wong, who was named CEO in May 2022. “Getting more famous is absolutely one of our objectives,” she said.
Since joining Aritzia in 1987 as an associate at its third store, Wong has risen through the ranks of the 39-year-old company. She first joined the corporate team as a shoe buyer after studying economics at the University of British Columbia.
“As I produced more results, [founder and former CEO] Brian [Hill] gave me more challenges and opportunities,” Wong said. Her noteworthy accomplishments at the company to date include heading up its expansion into the U.S. starting in 2007, implementing its first ERP system in 2008, launching its e-commerce business in 2012 and leading the IPO to take Aritzia public in 2016.
Wong said that nearly 300 of Aritzia’s current employees have been at the company for 10 years or more, calling it “a testament to the culture we’ve created that nurtures long-term growth and development.” During the pandemic, the company avoided layoffs at every level, allowing it to hit the ground running when stores reopened, she said.
Being forced to become a pure-play digital retailer during Covid also worked to the advantage of the company, which had formerly placed outsized focus on its stores. For one, it made TikTok take notice.
“When you’re executing at a very high level in both channels — including by providing great customer service, a great experiential retail experience and fantastic products — that catches on,” Wong said. “TikTok has helped us become known for certain styles in our product assortment, and it’s been [instrumental] in propelling our [growth].”
The hashtag #aritziasuperpuff, pointing to the brand’s popular puffer coat line, currently has 38 million views on the platform. But also, #aritziadupes has 125 million.
According to Wong, “No one can compete with us on the breadth of our products, or on the quality, care and attention that go into our products and our stores.”
After starting as a traditional Canadian retailer carrying popular third-party brands like Esprit and Big Star Jeans, Aritzia’s business model has greatly evolved. It now has 116 stores across Canada and the U.S. and a growing e-commerce business that is set to account for 45% of sales by 2027. What’s more, 97% of sales now come from its owned private-label brands.
“But our values have not changed,” Wong said. “‘Everyday luxury’ has been our value proposition and brand proposition since day one.”
Among Aritzia’s three current growth levers is geographic expansion, largely through the opening of U.S. flagship stores with new experiential elements like in-store A-OK Cafés. Others include growing the e-commerce business, including with a “technology ecosystem” enabling “omnichannel” operations, and boosting brand awareness, Wong said.
“Coming out of Covid, we’ve seen unprecedented, steeper-than-hockey-stick growth,” Wong said. “So this year has been about catching up to that growth by building a world-class foundational infrastructure [allowing us to] both build out our teams and optimize our processes, systems and technologies. We want to ensure that we can expand at an agile pace from this new baseline and become much bigger. We’re setting the stage for the next level of Aritzia.”
A constant focus on improving is key to Aritzia’s culture, Wong said. And that’s reflected in her leadership style.
“I’m very operational, because I came from the operational side of the business,” she said.” But I’m also very passionate about our brand and our creativity and innovation. And I care about our people who are making it all happen.”