mes Rhee saved Ashley Stewart. is not the person you’d expect to be the driving force behind the revival of America’s largest plus-size, retail chain for African-American women.
The company was Ashley Stewart. It was founded in 1991 as one of the first and only fashion brands for plus-sized, African-American women. It was built around the idea of serving a community. Store managers were referred to as “Miss Ashley” by shoppers. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters would shop together for special occasion clothing. And in 2013, it was on the brink of declaring bankruptcy for the second time. That’s when Rhee — an Asian-American man, the son of Korean immigrants, with no retail experience at all — stepped up to take over as CEO. He left behind his career as a financial investor to run Ashley Stewart and give the brand one last shot to stay alive.
“It was one of those things where … I just felt what was going to happen to the business was wrong,” said Rhee. “The company hadn’t had a really fair shot in a long time.”
Today, Ashley Stewart is thriving. Its digital business is booming, the customer base has grown, and the brand is leveraging its name to help promote new entrepreneurs from the same community it serves.