Loblaw’s Joe Fresh without Joe

It’s the end of another chapter in a successful book of private brand fashion success.

Joe Mimran, 62 has stepped down from his position as creative director nine years after creating the Joe Fresh cheap chic private brand fashion concept for Loblaw Companies Limited.

Mimran will remain the founder and brand ambassador of the private label retailer of men’s, women’s and kids fashions, accessories, footwear and beauty products.

Mario Grauso, a US fashion executive with stints at Vera Wang Group and Puig, will continue as president. Over the past eighteen months, Grauso has been steering Joe Fresh global expansion through retail stores, and international partnerships. Joe Fresh’s new design and management team will be based in New York and includes COO Ian Freedman, women’s designer Henriette Ernst and men’s designer Jose Abellar.

The Fresh Start
Joe Fresh was established in 2006 by Joseph Mimran & Associates in partnership with Loblaw. Initially, the private brand was positioned to compete with the “George” private label assortment at Walmart Canada. George was the brand originally created by British fashion guru George Davies for UK retailer, ASDA.

Today, Joe Fresh is sold in Canada at over 340 grocery stores, 16 stand-alone flagship locations and online.

The man behind successful private brands
Since inception, Mimran has been the public persona behind the brand and infused Joe Fresh with his own signature ‘high-low’ style. He embodied the appeal of Joe Fresh to an affluent target market with savvy chic combination: fashion and luxury, mixed with fun and cheerfully bright-colored basics.

Last fall signaled a change in focus for Mimran. For the first time in many seasons he did not show his Joe Fresh Collection on Toronto’s Fashion Week runway, saying he was concentrating on wholesale business and looking for ways to mentor designers.

Being so closely associated with the Joe Fresh private brand, one wonders if Joe Fresh can survive without the halo of his personality.

But his success at creating, building and then selling a private label fashion brand has been proven before. Mimran was the co-founder of Club Monaco – another private label fashion retailer of fashion basics with a European flair. He grew that to 140 outlets and US$90 million in sales. He sold it to Ralph Lauren for $52 million in 1999.

Mimran resilient when guiding Joe Fresh through some rough patches
Mimran’s tenure at Joe Fresh has not been without its challenges.

In 2012 Joe Fresh announced an exclusive agreement for distribution at over 650 JCPenney locations in the United States. It was a meeting of the minds at the time. Former Penney CEO, Ron Johnson approached Mimran to have Joe Fresh be part of the “Town Square” revitalization of the sagging retailer. Joe Fresh was a big bet to attract new, younger customers with quality at great price points, mostly under $40

Mimran, and Loblaw didn’t take on much of the risk. But control over the Joe Fresh brand experience inside JCPenney was viewed by Mimran as essential. At the time, he expected the concept to be very brand focused and said, “We think our identity will not be compromised.” The ambitious scale of a simultaneous launch of Joe Fresh at over 600 shop-in-shops became the survival test of Johnson’s plan.

As it turned out, the millennial shopper didn’t respond, and JCPenney’s older suburban customer base wasn’t ready for an unknown brand like Joe Fresh. Johnson didn’t last, but the Joe Fresh brand is still available in women’s, girls, boys and baby at 650 JCPenney locations and JCPenney.com

Almost at the same time, another high-profile event happened.

Joe Fresh products were among the fashion brands found at a devastating collapse of garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Mimran, and Loblaw president, Galen G. Weston both publicly voiced their heartfelt apologies. Those public statements, along with other actions the company subsequently took, largely avoided a PR and consumer backlash. Joe Fresh joined The Accord for Fire and Building Safety; a program supported by retailers like H&M, Primark among others, and set up compensation for the affected workers and their families.

Joe’s future going further abroad
In early 2014, Joe Fresh announced three new international partnership agreements with plans for over 140 Joe Fresh store openings within 3 to 5 years in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and South Korea. Their regional partners include: Saudi Arabia’s Fawaz A. Alhokair & Co., Dubai-based Retail Arabia International, and South-Korean Origin & Co., Ltd.

To continue as a successful brand, Joe Fresh will need to leverage strength of Mimran’s imprint, its global design and management talent and amongst increasing international competition of much bigger private brands that focus on similar niche of affordable fashion basics.

Muji, Old Navy, Target, come to mind.

Joe Mimran Next Step – Dragon’s Den
This week, it was announced that Joe Mimran will be one of the ‘Dragons’ in the 10th season of popular CBC TV show “Dragon’s Den“. The new season will begin airing in the fall of 2015.

The weekly show captures entrepreneurs taking a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pitch their business idea to financiers with the cash and the know-how to catapult companies to commercial success. It reaches an average audience of about 1 million Canadians per week.

“I’m thrilled to join DRAGONS’ DEN, one of the most entertaining and dynamic shows on television,” said Joe Mimran in a press release.

Mimran joins other multi-millionaire venture capitalists, or ‘dragons’, including: culinary kingpin Vikram Vij, flamboyant venture capitalist Michael Wekerle, Jim Treliving, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and co-owner of Boston Pizza and Mr. Lube has been on the show from the beginning. Mimran is not the first clothing magnate to be on the show, Lawrence Lewin, the late founder of LaSenza lingerie chain (now owned by Limited Brands Inc. the parent of Victoria’s Secret), was a dragon during the first two seasons.

“I’ve been starting businesses since I was in university, and this is the perfect opportunity to share that lifelong passion and experience with young entrepreneurs. I look forward to working with the other Dragons, hearing some great pitches and hopefully bringing the next great Canadian business idea to life.”

“We’re thrilled to welcome Joe Mimran to DRAGONS’ DEN,” said Jennifer Dettman, executive director, Unscripted Content, CBC. “Joe is a giant in fashion retail in this country. As the brains behind some of Canada’s most successful brands, he’s a welcome addition to the den. “

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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.