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Tapestry CEO Jide Zeitlin Resigns Amid ProPublica Investigation

The executive, who has served on the company's board for 14 years and was named its chief executive in 2019, is leaving as misconduct allegations surface.
Jide Zeitlin | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Chavie Lieber
BoF PROFESSIONAL

NEW YORK, United States — Jide Zeitlin, the chief executive of Tapestry, resigned from his position at the fashion retailer Tuesday, a decision he said was motivated by a journalist's investigation into a decade-old allegation of misconduct.

Tapestry, which owns Coach and Kate Spade New York, was also investigating Zeitlin over having an inappropriate relationship with a woman 10 years ago. He allegedly used a fake name and posed as a photographer in order to "lure her into a romantic relationship," sources told The Wall Street Journal.

Later Tuesday, Zeitlin said in a post on LinkedIn that the allegations had been raised by a journalist, William Cohan, who the executive said was initially planning to publish a "hit job" for Graydon Carter's Airmail, and later, a different publication. In an email to BoF, Cohan said for "the last week" he had been working on the story for ProPublica, an independent investigative journalism non-profit that has won six Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other awards.

Zeitlin declined BoF’s request for comment. A representative for Tapestry did not comment beyond the statement announcing Zeitlin’s resignation on Tuesday, which did not mention the allegations.

In his post, Zeitlin wrote that he used to work as a photographer, taking pictures for the Associated Press and Boston Globe. At one point, he used a pseudonym "for privacy reasons when I was rising through the ranks as a rare Black banker."

He admitted to having a relationship with a woman he was photographing — a model looking for headshots, according to The Wall Street Journal — writing "the allegations that I drew too close to the above woman are true; however, our relationship began and concluded 13 years ago."

He did not elaborate on the misconduct allegations, but wrote that “it had nothing to do with my role at Tapestry, and I did not use power, wealth, or position to further that relationship.”

Zeitlin wrote that Cohan initially reached out to profile him for Airmail, the email newsletter founded by former Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter. Zeitlin granted him an interview, but said he only heard back months later after Cohan was working for ProPublica.

Zeitlin said he was stepping down because he was concerned the allegations and the potential story from Cohan were too distracting.

“I made a mistake in having a relationship with this woman and I dealt with that in my personal life at the time,” he wrote. “I cannot allow these allegations to be weaponized against me.”

A seasoned financial executive who took a seat on the board of Tapestry, then known as Coach, Inc.,14 years ago, Zeitlin was named board chairman in 2014. In September 2019, when then-chief executive Victor Luis exited the business, Zeitlin stepped into the position. He also became the interim chief executive of the Coach brand after its lead Joshua Shulman exited in March. He was one of four Black executives to lead a Fortune 500 company.

Tapestry Chief Financial Officer Joanne Crevoiserat, who joined Tapestry from Abercrombie & Fitch in 2019, will serve as interim chief executive until the company finds a replacement. Todd Kahn, the chief administrative officer and company secretary, will take on Zeitlin’s Coach duties also on an interim basis. A statement from Tapestry on Tuesday said it is looking at internal and external candidates to fill these roles.

Zeitlin's exit comes at a particularly challenging time for Tapestry, which is still working to prove that the multi-brand accessible luxury portfolio engineered by Luis since 2015 — in the mould of the European luxury groups — can be a successful strategy for long-term growth. International expansion has been fruitful, but in the US, deep discounting and falling mall traffic have been major barriers.

The last two years have also brought frequent changes in leadership at the company: CEOs came and went at both Coach and Kate Spade New York, and the head designer of Stuart Weitzman was dismissed for misconduct. Luis, who oversaw a turnaround at Coach with designer Stuart Vevers, exited in September after the company cut its full-year earnings forecast and the Kate Spade New York brand continued to struggle.

More recently, the coronavirus pandemic brought a serious hit to the business. The group closed or reduced hours at 90 percent of its stores in the most recent quarter, contributing to a revenue decline of nearly 20 percent and a net loss of $677.1 million. The company's stock price has decreased 49 percent in 2020, but was up 4 percent on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Chantal Fernandez

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