As Utah’s Jane.com heads toward liquidation, its customers, employees and vendors ask: What happened?

The online retailer revolutionized shopping and selling for women. Now headed for liquidation, the site’s demise blindsided customers, vendors and employees.

(Nicole Leavitt | Courtesy) Shera Wheeler fulfills orders for her business, Pink Pineapple Clothing, from her Logan warehouse. Wheeler built her business around Jane.com, she said, and with its announced demise, said she feels "taken advantage of."

Shera Wheeler built her business around Jane.com, the Lehi-based online retailer that promised to revolutionize online shopping and help women business owners thrive. Her store, Pink Pineapple Clothing, accounts for about half of Wheeler’s family income, she said, and almost all of her business came from Jane.

But as the retailer shut down Friday, according to now-former employees, Wheeler said it owes her $125,000. “It’s devastating,” Wheeler said. “I feel very taken advantage of.”

In a recording of Friday’s all-staff meeting obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, Krista Kochivar — Jane’s CFO, according to her LinkedIn page — can be heard telling employees that Jane is in the process of liquidating its assets.

The company is going through an “assignment for the benefit of creditors” process, which is a voluntary alternative to bankruptcy that transfers Jane’s assets to a trust. A trustee will sell the assets and assure the “highest possible value to Jane’s creditors,” Kochivar said.

Employees were not offered severance, the recording confirmed.

Five years after its 2011 founding by Mike and Megan McEwan, Jane.com was offering around 250 deals a day and had about 2,000 active sellers. Inc. reported those figures in a 2016 article that asked how Jane was “doing so well in an industry that’s supposed to be going extinct,” and suggested the answers included the “uniqueness” of Jane’s fashion and home products and the speed of those flash sales.

Jane hit its first million-dollar day, twice, that year, Mike McEwan told a class at Brigham Young University in 2017. Total revenue reached $1 billion in 2020 under CEO Taleeb Noormohamed, the fashion site Glossy reported. Earlier this year, new CEO Joana McKenna told KSL she planned continued growth.

But on Friday — one week before Black Friday’s lucrative kickoff of the holiday shopping season — Kochivar blamed Jane’s demise on an evolving e-commerce space with which boutique retailers could no longer keep up.

Websites like Shein and Temu, which sell mass-produced goods for cheap, are dominating online shopping, Kochivar said.

“We’ve been valiantly fighting a very uphill battle the last couple of years,” Kochivar said. “There comes a point where it’s impossible to compete on price.”

The Jane.com website went down early Friday morning, blank except for a brief message: “Down for maintenance.” Attempts to contact the company’s leadership Friday and Monday were unsuccessful.

Friday’s news validated Wheeler’s suspicions that something was wrong. But vendors, many of whom consider themselves small business owners and who relied on Jane for sales, say they are left wondering whether they will ever see the money they are owed — and what, exactly, went so wrong.

“What does that mean for all the small businesses?” said Jen Abegg, who started selling jewelry on Jane.com more than 10 years ago. “It’s been very disappointing as a small business owner. … It’s going to devastate families.”

“It’s just sad,” said one former worker, after executives broke the news Friday to Jane’s roughly 100 staffers that the company was “ceasing operations.” The Tribune agreed not to identify the employee, who doesn’t want to jeopardize a last paycheck. “It’s sad for so many people besides myself.”

‘Ghosted’ vendors

Abegg said she and other vendors had been “ghosted” in recent weeks. In emails and interviews with The Tribune, and in forums on Reddit and Facebook, dozens of Jane.com vendors claimed the company owes them tens of thousands of dollars. Some shared screenshots of their balances, taken before the website went dark.

Katie Stacey, Wheeler’s sister, has used the platform for 12 years to promote her clothing boutique, Copper Lane Clothing. She is among the platform’s top sellers, she said, and it owes her roughly $35,000.

“I feel so betrayed,” Stacey said Friday, crying.

(Bella Alder) Katie Stacey's boutique clothing store, Copper Line Clothing, did most of its business on Jane.com. The online marketplace owes her around $35,000, she said.

Payments slowed, or stopped all together, in October, vendors said. Some vendors said they were told the seller support team was down a member and behind on processing payments. Others said they were told the technology had changed, and Jane.com was working out some kinks.

“We learned a key member of the accounting team recently went out on family leave and they are working to get a new team member up to speed as soon as possible,” a Jane.com customer service agent wrote in an email to vendor Jesse Peffor.

The excuses felt thin, some vendors said. Then they stopped altogether. “I feel very disappointed for the lack of correspondence [from Jane],” vendor Alexis Cassar told The Tribune.

Some sellers said Jane.com was still communicating with them about deals but would not respond to questions about payment. Some vendors, like Abegg and Cassar, said they pulled their deals or stopped fulfilling orders once they realized they were not being paid.

Lonnie Carroll said he and his wife tried a gentler approach. A Jane.com representative paid some of their outstanding balance in mid-November, Carroll said, and then asked them to release more deals.

“We said we’re happy to, but promise us we’ll see this chunk of money sitting there now pushed through,” Carroll said. “We figured if we were selling, we’d be the ones getting paid. We took the risk.”

They have not heard from Jane since, Carroll said. He said the retailer owes them around $55,000.

Some customers are similarly in the dark. In the absence of a website or customer service, one customer reached out to The Tribune hoping for information about how to get a refund. Negative online reviews have poured in over the past year from shoppers who could not reach customer service. Other shoppers shared their experiences on social media.

Revolution gone wrong?

Jane was founded as a “boutique marketplace” for women’s clothing, accessories and home decor. Its ultimate mission, according to an April news release promoting International Women’s Day, was to “be the marketplace committed to discovering and supporting women-owned businesses.”

Abegg said Jane.com was once so good for her jewelry business that her husband quit his job to help her fulfill orders. The jewelry business became her family’s primary income, she said, and for a time, Jane.com accounted for roughly 80% of her sales.

Jane.com offered vendors visibility and sales volume, and its three-day flash deals created a sense of urgency in buyers. For a cut of the proceeds — roughly 25%, several vendors said — Jane became an easy and efficient sales platform.

“In the beginning, my products and creative photography, in partnership with their platform, was a dream come true,” vendor Heather Gray wrote in a Facebook post and an email to The Tribune. “I wouldn’t be where I am without their original leadership.”

Customers liked it, too. Online reviews in Jane’s early days praised the site’s high-quality items at cheap prices. People “swore” by the marketplace, reviewers said.

Going into its 10th year, Jane seemed poised for further growth — it got a $40 million investment from Tritium Partners in 2020. According to an announcement at the time, Jane’s customers had purchased “more than $1 billion of goods” and the company was still “skyrocketing.” It had been on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies six times by then.

Tritium, a private equity firm with offices in Lehi and Austin, Texas, did not respond to The Tribune’s request for comment on Jane’s liquidation.

In 2022, Jane was ranked on lists of fastest-growing companies from Utah Business and from Financial Times. New CEO McKenna took over that year; in an interview with KSL this spring, she vowed to transform the business into a more “evergreen” model, doing away with flash sales and instead offering more permanent deals. Vendors and former employees said McKenna has since quietly left.

From the inside, the former employee said, the mood had been different; the employee had survived four rounds of mass layoffs since starting in 2020.

Some sellers said the site lost its competitive edge; it became “oversaturated” with vendors and products, and the move to more permanent deals decreased sales volume. “It’s just not special anymore,” Abegg said. “It’s not unique anymore.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Jane building at 3401 N. Thanksgiving Way in Lehi.

Picking up the pieces

Vendors who reached out to The Tribune — more than a dozen in total — said they suspected the online retailer might be in trouble weeks ago. It didn’t make the blow any easier.

“I feel like I’ve suffered a great death today,” Gray wrote Nov. 15, before the closure was announced but in recognition of what seemed an inevitable collapse.

“It feels almost like grief,” Wheeler echoed Monday. “It comes in waves. I’m totally fine one minute, bawling the next.”

Abegg and Cassar said they feel lucky; their balances were relatively low and they had already started to pivot to other marketplaces — Etsy, unique websites. They worry that other vendors will have a harder time adjusting.

Stacey and Wheeler, who both live in Logan, said they had to let their entire staff go once their unpaid balances got too high. Stacey fired three people; Wheeler — who said she was the website’s largest denim vendor last year — fired eight.

“We’re going to try to sell it on our own, but we don’t have the kind of traffic we need,” Stacey said. “We’re going to have to move out of our warehouse. I’ll probably get a job. We need money.”

Holiday season is usually the busiest time of year for online retailers. Several vendors said they grieve the lost business, which they count on to carry them through the year, but they also pity their customers.

“I feel so bad for customers right now,” Stacey said. “I’m sure there are hundreds of orders people placed. It must be so bad for [Jane] to go under this week.”

“It puts us in a hard place,” Cassar said. “We want to sell to these customers. We really want to sell to them. But we can’t tell them what’s going on.”

If there is a silver lining, Wheeler said, the last few days have been a lesson in “how good people are.” Other online retailers have reached out to vendors to offer support, resources and advice. She’s holding onto hope.

“We’re not giving up, that’s for sure,” Wheeler said. “We’re gonna give it all we’ve got.”

Shannon Sollitt is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.