Post Creator: Rosie Bartley

Dressed for Success: Designing a Brand’s Future with Customer-Centric Simplicity

By ICR | Podcast

The sign of a strong apparel brand isn’t always about covering every billboard. It’s about longevity, steady growth, and speaking the customer’s language. And today’s two guests certainly know how to do that. 

On this episode, we’re sitting down with Kevin McLaughlin, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of J. McLaughlin, and Mary Ellen Coyne, the company’s CEO. Kevin started J.McLaughlin in 1977 with his brother, Jay. They envisioned a timeless lifestyle brand with a legacy of style and a spirit of connection. And they did just that, opening their first shop on 74th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan. It immediately became the post-brunch destination for the Ivy league, JG Mellon crowd. 

Kevin’s taste and design-sense has guided the J.McLaughlin collection since the first store opened, and he prides himself on creating effortless and enduring styles with a modern twist. Each style is thoughtfully designed with impeccable craftsmanship, original colors and prints and innovative fabrics.  

Mary Ellen Coyne is the CEO of J. McLaughlin, and joined the brand in 2016. She oversees all aspects of strategy and operations, including merchandising, product development, marketing, retail expansion, and e-commerce. Under her leadership, the brand has launched new product verticals, including swim and footwear, enjoyed robust retail expansion, and recently launched a brand refresh. 

Prior to joining the company, Mary Ellen had two decades of leadership experience at Ralph Lauren, where she most recently served as the Chief Merchandising Officer of Polo Women and Children’s Division. Her career kicked off in the Macy’s Training Program, and from there, she sharpened her industry expertise with key merchandising roles at Ann Taylor, The Gap, and Victoria’s Secret.

J.McLaughlin now has over 170 beautiful stores on the most charming streets in America and true to the McLaughlin brothers’ vision, each store is entirely unique.


  • Kevin tells how he and his brother Jay started the business in 1977, and who the core customer is (3:43)
  • Mary Ellen talks about why she joined the company (6:27)
  • The store locations, key markets and expansion strategy (8:07)
  • The menswear category and as the early foundation of the brand, and how the company approaches their relationship with the customer (10:17)
  • Kevin talks about the role that intuition plays in the company (15:01)
  • J.McLaughlin’s philanthropy and their “local and loyal” approach (17:10)
  • Mary Ellen discusses the company’s impressive financial performance (18:03)
  • The company’s marketing and the role that their catalogue plays in that mix (19:53)
  • New categories for 2024 (22:21)
  • Working with Trey Laird to update the company’s branding and marketing (25:10)
  • Kevin discusses the expansion and brand awareness he’d like to create (28:19)
  • Who are J.McLaughlin’s competitors? (30:01)
  • Trends and retail projections for the coming season (31:18)
  • Mary Ellen and Kevin’s goals for the next 5 years (32:38)



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