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Pacsun Taps Fountain of Youth

CEO Changes as Revitalized Retailer Nears $1B in Annual Sales

As Anaheim-based youth-focused retailer Pacific Sunwear of California LLC moves closer to returning to $1 billion in annual sales, it will do so with a revamped executive team, starting this March.

Co-CEO Alfred Chang, who has been largely credited for refocusing and restructuring PacSun following a quick stint in bankruptcy in 2016, turning it into one of the country’s largest “cool kids” brands, will be stepping down from the role after 17 years with the company.

Taking his position on March 9 is PacSun’s current president, Brie Olson, who began her career at the company around the same time that Chang started.

She’s been cited as playing a large part in building PacSun’s forward-looking digital marketing efforts (see story, this page).

Olson will join fellow executive Mike Relich in the co-CEO position, while Chang is set to lead one of the firm’s best-known brand partners, LA-based contemporary streetwear label Fear of God, as its CEO. He will stay on PacSun’s board of directors.

“I think we have the strongest brand pipeline in the industry and look forward to continuing to turn out the most impactful and relevant collaborations for our consumer,” Olson told the Business Journal.

“We plan to continue to lead the industry in our exploration of the metaverse”—a virtual world where people and companies interact with each other via avatars and simulated storefronts—“and investigate international expansion here in the physical world.

$900M and Rising

PacSun currently counts over 300 stores in the U.S.; about 20% are in shopping centers.

The retailer, with offerings in the activewear, footwear, denim, beauty and home categories, is owned by private equity firm Golden Gate Capital, which took the company private following its 2016 bankruptcy. It had counted over 1,300 locations prior to that restructuring.

Chang told trade publication Women’s Wear Daily in mid-2022 that PacSun sales were around $900 million, well over the $700 million in sales it reported in 2020. “We’ve got our sights set on returning to becoming an over billion-dollar business again,” he said at the time.

To hit the billion-dollar mark, PacSun will continue testing new technologies and programs for its more digitally immersed customer, according to Olson.

Digital and e-commerce sales had more than doubled for the apparel firm in 2020, and was beginning to represent 50% of the brand’s sales.

Initiatives such as livestreams and partnering with tech platforms like Roblox and Snapchat have “really increased our consumer engagement and allowed us to have a dialogue with [the younger generation] that helps deliver spot-on merchandise,” Olson said.

Fluidity

Olson started her retail and design career in Italy working with luxury brands Gianfranco Ferré and Valentino. She joined PacSun in 2006 as senior design director and moved up through merchandising and branding until she became president in 2021.

“[Olson] has been instrumental to PacSun’s growth on many levels during her almost two decades with the company,” Relich said.

Her new role will also make history for the 40-year apparel firm.

“It is a privilege to be the first female CEO at PacSun,” Olson said of her appointment. The retailer was founded in 1980 by Jack Hopkins and Tom Moore.

She acknowledged a former board member, Sally Kasaks, as her inspiration and mentor during a short run as interim chief executive during Olson’s first year at the company.

Olson said she will support the fluid business model of the youth-focused apparel company that follows the up-and-coming trends among its target market and develops accordingly, “to ensure we grow our relevancy with Gen Z and continue to lead as top apparel for youth culture.”

“PacSun’s mission is centered on the constant evolving and shifting of youth culture,” she said.

Brand Creation, Incubation

Outside the digital world, Olson has led notable collaborations with modern day artists, actors and creators over the last decade and plans to continue finding new partners.

Olson said she specializes in “brand creation and incubation” with these partnerships, such as artist A$AP Rocky, who was named PacSun’s first guest artistic director, Formula 1 racing and other mainstream figures.

She aims to create more connections between PacSun and the likes of Gen Z through these collaborators on TikTok and Instagram as well.

Other celebrity partners have included YouTuber Emma Chamberlain, actress Storm Reid and singer Willow Smith—each have helped launch collections of swimwear, gender-neutral apparel and other lines through collaborating or performing at events. Reid released her fourth project with PacSun in December 2022 and has a fifth dropping this March.

This year has “a slate of new exciting partnerships that are in the works,” according to Olson.

Collaborations Continue

Exclusivity remains a hallmark of PacSun’s current focus, often via collaborations with curated collections available only at its stores.

A recent example includes the Super Bowl collaboration between artist Rihanna’s Fenty company and vintage sports retailer Mitchell & Ness, which has offices in Irvine. Jackets, sweatshirts, and T-shirts with designs based on the performer’s upcoming halftime show were available across all PacSun shops.

Chang’s newest venture, Fear of God, is also considered one of PacSun’s biggest connections. Other brand partners include Costa Mesa-based Vans Inc. (see story, page 3), and Germany-based Adidas with new additions of Land Rover and The Met museum for 2023.

“Collectively, these moves are intended to propel PacSun upward and onward,” Olson added.

Metaverse Expansion

Pacific Sunwear of California launched its second project on the popular gaming platform Roblox this month, creating a virtual experience based in Southern California that allows users to digitally create a map of the region with cities like Santa Monica and Hollywood already built in.

Roblox is one of the largest platforms people use to interact in the metaverse.

Based on real-life inspired gameplay, coined as the tycoon genre on Roblox, the map-building experience leads users to find digital items that tie into visiting physical PacSun stores. Its recently released Spring collection of 2023 will also be offered virtually for users’ avatars to wear on the metaverse platform.

PacSun also worked with the Delorean automaker to include a virtual make of the classic DMC model to be accessed in the game.

The release follows positive response from its first launch on Roblox last year, according to PacSun’s current president Brie Olson. Previously, the retailer had built a virtual mall called PacWorld. The SoCal map building experience racked up over 1 million visits for roughly 75 hours after its initial launch. The opening weekend counted around 103,000 daily active users on average, according to PacSun data.

“It’s really about our continuation of consumer affinity, and keeping our community engaged by creating unique intersections between fashion and other important factors in their life,” Olson said.

Further digital expansion will be achieved through more use of livestreams and virtual shopping experiences, she said.

—Emily Santiago-Molina

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