Melody Harris-Jensbach is not yet completely satisfied.

The writing on the wall next to the stairs is too small, complained the boss of the outdoor brand Jack Wolfskin when visiting the newly designed branch in Düsseldorf's old town.

The colleagues on site have to do this again.

Otherwise, the manager is enthusiastic about the new shopfitting, which allows significantly fewer shelves and thus also products, provides tons of tablets on which the vision and brand promise of Jack Wolfskin are explained, and attaches importance to sustainability with mannequins made of paper mache, shelves made of sustainable wood and pictures made from recycled plastic on the wall.

The underlying “Millennium” concept will soon be part of Harris-Jensbach's legacy at Jack Wolfskin.

Because the 59-year-old is leaving the medium-sized company from Idstein in Hesse at the turn of the year.

In the WELT interview, the manager summarizes her six years of work and names the tasks for her successor.

The American-Korean manager Melody Harris-Jensbach has lived in Germany since 1986

Source: picture alliance / dpa



Ms. Harris-Jensbach, why are you leaving Jack Wolfskin?

Melody Harris-Jensbach:


's about


I said from the start that I wanted to put Jack Wolfskin on a new footing and modernize the then outdated brand.

And both are now done.


Evil tongues claim that the new owner from the USA has curtailed your power and you are quitting because of it.



That's not true.

On the contrary: after the Callaway takeover, I stayed longer than planned.

The transition phase was supposed to only last a year, but at the request of investors, I stayed for two years.


But you are not the only one from the management team to leave the company.

Jack Wolfskin also has a new head of finance and a new head of sales.

Is it all just a strange coincidence?


No, not a strange coincidence.

But everything can be explained.

For the CFO, for example, it was personal reasons, and after 25 years in the company, the sales manager was simply looking for a new challenge.



You apparently too.

What is your conclusion after six years?


That was a very intensive time - because the task not only consisted of a complete brand, product and image change, but also several financial restructuring and there were two changes of ownership at the same time.

But that wasn't foreseeable when I started here in 2014.

Instead of making a few changes here and there as intended, in the end it was a complete turnaround from A to Z.


Your specialties are fashion, marketing and sales.

How often did you get tired in between because you had to talk more to bankers than to designers?


(laughs) I faced the situation.

And what matters: We got it right.


What are you leaving behind?

In what shape is the company?


Without Corona, I would speak of a very good condition.

Because we were on a growth path, had good sales in 2019 and were profitable.

And suddenly everything is different.

We are doing even better than expected in the pandemic.

Because Corona has given outdoor an even higher priority.


How badly does Corona hit Jack Wolfskin?



So far we have lost between 20 and 25 percent of sales.

Even if outdoor was in great demand over the summer and also in autumn, because suddenly everyone wanted to be active outside - the damage caused by the lockdown in spring has not yet been compensated for.

And now there's the new lockdown light.

Although the shops are open, the frequency dropped significantly in November.

Of course, online sales are increasing at the same time.

We will certainly grow by 40 percent in this area compared to the previous year.

But that does not compensate for the losses in the stationary business.

In particular, the shops with a traditionally high proportion of tourists suffer from the Corona situation.

Smaller locations in small and medium-sized towns, on the other hand, sometimes even run better.

Because the customers come from the area.

In view of the overall situation, however, we have reduced the number of orders for the upcoming collections.


Production is mainly in Asia.

Can you bring the production back to Europe so that you can then perhaps quickly reorder if things go better than expected?


Maybe a part, but not the large quantities.

The necessary machinery is simply missing here.

And they can't even be built up.

Light goods such as T-shirts or shirts, i.e. the apparel component, can also come in certain quantities from Eastern Europe and Turkey or from Spain, Portugal and North Africa.

We’re already doing that.

But that doesn't work with functional jackets and other high-tech products in terms of cost.

To do this, there would have to be a change in the minds of consumers and sustainability and quality would have to become much more important than price.


What about sustainability at Jack Wolfskin?

Outdoor providers often have some catching up to do.


Jack Wolfskin is well positioned there.

I even see us as pioneers.

Because we don't just plant a few trees and offset our CO2 emissions, as is the case with many other companies.

Instead, we have integrated the topic of sustainability into the value chain.

It's just more difficult to portray because it's not a PR story, it's an attitude.


What does: "... integrated into the value chain"?


We use recycled polyester, a recycled lining and a membrane made from recycled material - in the meantime in at least half of all products in the range.

There is also a cooperation with Seaqual.

Their fishermen collect marine plastic for us, which is then used to make yarn that we use to sew.

At the same time, all products are PFC-free.

So far, we haven't put this in the foreground so much and have been more modest than other companies in the industry, which are now considered to be particularly environmentally friendly, but sometimes lag far behind us with their measures.

Maybe that was a mistake and we took this work for granted.

But we're getting louder now.

Because the Greta generation understands the interrelationships and also takes the trouble to distinguish real sustainability efforts from greenwashing.


Speaking of louder: What happened to your plans to also offer sneakers and running shoes in the future?



We changed


plans and put the issue of running shoes on hold for now.

But there will be something new - collections for cyclists.

The bike sports segment has grown steadily in recent years.

Now Corona has accelerated this development again.

And we want to benefit from this.

Jack Wolfskin had bike collections a long time ago, but somehow it fell asleep.

Now we bring back special shirts, pants and jackets.

They are much lighter and have different cuts.

The jackets, for example, are longer at the back and have different sleeves.

The results of the first tests are promising.

So we will now expand this area a lot.


What else is your legacy at Jack Wolfskin?


Above all, the product and the brand.

Jack Wolfskin has become significantly more modern and younger.

We have developed away from a brand for extreme athletes on the one hand and for retirees who go for a walk with their dog on the other, towards a brand for young families and for completely normal leisure activities.

And from my point of view, the second great legacy is the ownership structure: We are no longer in the hands of private equity, but belong to a group for which not only money and earnings count, but which are also strategically invested.

This is especially important for the employees.

Because that finally brings calm to the company.


How did you achieve this rejuvenation?


Through the interplay of more modern and fashionable products with appropriate cuts and colors, also especially for women, by the way.

They don't want to look like men in their outdoor activities.

But that was never really taken into account.

In addition, we now have a completely different branding.

In the advertising and in the pictures you can no longer see the man with a thick beard climbing a wall with an ice ax.

Instead, it's now simply about hiking.

As an outdoor company, we can and must admit to such a topic that may even seem boring.

Because in the end, that's the reality and what people do.

Incidentally, the younger generations too: hiking is no longer old-fashioned.

Backpacking has also experienced a boom in recent years.

And we dare to show this real world instead of the over-ambitious climbing adventure.

Many people certainly dream of the ice ax tour, but only very few do it.

Nevertheless, the need for outdoor clothing is there.

Because even the hiker has to master the weather.


So you ticked off the topic of sustainability, added the product and brand and also made a restructuring.

What has your successor Richard Collier still to do?



Oh, there are still enough tasks.

The topic of digitization, for example: We are still relatively at the beginning.

Corona shows us once again very emphatically how important it is to network online and offline intelligently.

There is also a lot to do when it comes to international growth.

Beyond Europe, I've only made China and also the first steps in the USA and Japan with the development of the organization and infrastructure.

There is a lot of potential in America in particular.

America is a big market - but also by far the toughest market in the world with top dogs like North Face, Columbia and Patagonia.

But we have our new owner Callaway by our side, who knows the market very well and supports us.

Apart from that, my successor is a colleague with experience in the industry and internationally.

I am excited to see what other priorities he will set at Jack Wolfskin.


Expansion is more of an issue abroad.

Or are there still opportunities in Germany?


The goal must always be to increase market share everywhere.

But of course we have already well staffed Germany with almost 300 stores, some of which are run by ourselves and some by franchise partners.

Nevertheless, the corona crisis can open up new opportunities.

Many traders have problems and will have to give up.

That gives others like us new opportunities when looking for a location.

The appearance of the inner cities will change massively in the coming months.


do you believe in stationary retail and the city center?



Of course there are customers who do everything online.

But it's also a fact: when the first lockdown was over, people poured into the cities.

People want to meet, they want to stroll and see things, touch them and try them out.

Nevertheless, it is important to network both channels.


How are things going with you?

You are too young to retire ...


That is controversial.

(laughs) Maybe I'm too young to retire, but I'm already quite old for the really big operational tasks.

Even so, the energy still has to go somewhere.

I will therefore accept supervisory board mandates.

I already have the first one with the Lenzing Group, a manufacturer of sustainable fibers from Austria.

There are already talks with others.

Because so far it's more of a men's group.

I would like to use my experiences to help break this circle.

To person

Melody Harris-Jensbach is an American-South Korean manager.

Before coming to Germany in 1986, she studied design in New York.

After working for various companies in the clothing industry, including Esprit, she was appointed to the board of directors of the sporting goods manufacturer Puma in 2008.

She has been CEO of Jack Wolfskin since the end of 2014.