Fresh ideas from Joe Mimran
Retail guru expands line of affordable clothing
There are two fashion pieces that Joe Mimran, creative director of Real Canadian Superstore’s Joe Fresh label, is rarely seen without.
The first is his velvet slippers, which he sports rain or shine. The second is his brand-specific briefs . . . or is it boxers?
“I always wear Joe Fresh underwear. That way I can always say, ‘I’m wearing something from the line,’ ” he says with a laugh.
Mimran was in Calgary recently to open the city’s first stand-alone Joe Fresh retail store, at CrossIron Mills.
The shop is one of a handful of locations across Canada that isn’t embedded within a grocery store. Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are also home to Joe Fresh boutiques.
Mimran, the mind behind brands such as Alfred Sung, Club Monaco and the now-defunct Caban, founded Joe Fresh in 2006 for Real Canadian Superstore (owned by Loblaw). The label is sold as the grocery store’s inhouse brand. While some critics doubted Mimran would be able to peddle trendy clothing directly next to the milk and eggs, Mimran scoffed at their skepticism.
“A lot of my friends in the industry thought I had lost it a bit — going in that direction. Especially when the whole world sort of turned upside down,” he says, referring to the 2008 economic downturn.
While the recession had other retailers downsizing and even going bankrupt, the crash couldn’t have been better timing for the Joe Fresh brand.
The line is built around affordability, and Canadian families who were suddenly watching their pocket books became interested in the low-priced but fashionforward line.
“The recession did help us. We were there for the consumer,” Mimran says.
“The whole idea of Joe Fresh was to bring fashion to people in a democratic way across the country. You don’t have to dumb (style) down because the clothing is inexpensive. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Lynne Ricker, area chair of marketing and tourism at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, says Joe Fresh’s success has been a mixture of great timing and a savvy business sense on Mimran’s part.
“It’s fast fashion. I don’t think you’re really getting the best quality of fabrics and it’s not necessarily about classic pieces. It’s trendy and inexpensive,” she says.
“Loblaws was expanding their non-food items a few years ago. They were trying to compete with Wal-Mart. The Joe Fresh label is very value oriented and price competitive, so it worked. What’s interesting is that they not only managed to attract the family shopper — the person who was there to buy groceries — they started to attract teens and other people who come into the grocery store just for the clothing.”
It’s precisely the reason Joe Fresh has been able to expand to stand-alone locations, according to Mimran. He says consumers are eager and willing to mix and match high-end duds with economically-priced staples, meaning he can put a Joe Fresh store in a swanky shopping area and people will still be interested in browsing the shelves.
Ricker agrees the recession changed the way many Canadians shop for fashion items.
“We’re getting a lot of crossover shopping now. You will see someone wearing a pair of Joe Fresh pants with their expensive Prada purse. People are mixing their fast fashion with luxury goods, buying the trendy items for less and investing in more classic pieces,” she says.
The next big thing on the Joe Fresh list is to expand to the U.S. Mimran says he will be opening a store in New York City “very soon.
“It’s amazing, we’ve gone from the food aisle to Fifth Avenue,” he says with a smile.
Joe Fresh’s American invasion won’t necessarily be easy. According to Ricker, the U.S. market is much more competitive.
“You’ve got Target, Wal-Mart and several other retailers that specialize in stylish, affordable clothing. American retailers are simply more aggressive than Canadian retailers, so it could be harder for Joe Fresh there,” she says.
Mimran admits crossing the border could be a battle, but he says now is the time to make a move.
“The U.S. market is still very tough, they’re still in a recession. But, I want to go in now because of several reasons: I love to keep challenging our own organization to keep growing and evolving; I think it’s a good time to go in when there’s a bit of weakness in the market. There’s not a lot of newness in the U.S. market right now — there’s room for us. Last, you hope to go in and catch things on the uptrend.”