Ask the Legends: Joe Mimran

Written by ProfitGuide

The superstar fashion entrepreneur reveals how Joe Fresh joined with Loblaws and the one business lesson he applies every day.

Chairman & CEO

Joseph Mimran & Associates


Age: 52

Career Highlights

· In 1977, becomes a partner with his mother and brother in the family’s Ms. Originals dress and design mannufacturing business

· Hires designer Alfred Sung in 1979. Together, they build Sung’s namesake fashion line into a Canadian mainstay

· Co-founds Club Monaco in 1984 with his brother and Sung. The fashion retailer grows to 141 stores by 1997

· Launches home-product and fashion brand Caban in 1995 for design-conscious consumers. In 2000, sells Caban and Club Monaco to Ralph Lauren Polo Corp. in a US$52-million deal

· Founds brand and design consultancy Joseph Mimran & Associates in 2001. Serves as creative director for the President’s Choice Home Collection

· Partners with Loblaws to create the “cheap chic” boutique Joe Fresh Style. The first one opens in 2006

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Joe Fresh?

Sue Brooks, Partner, eclecthink international, Saskatoon

The idea of “cheap chic” has been around for a while — it has just gotten cheaper and more chic. In the U.S., Target has been very good at forging the way with affordable fashion-forward clothing. And, in the U.K., you have Tesco and Asda with the George line. So this is not unique in an international sense.

But it’s unique for Canada, where nobody else sells clothes in a food environment. The first thing people were going to say was, “Clothing in a food store? Who are they to think they can do that?” So we put my name Joe on it to give it instant credibility. The “Fresh” part came from being in a food environment, in which freshness is tantamout to success. With those two words together, you have the credibility of somebody who has done it before and the freshness of a product that comes in on a monthly basis. The colours are fresh, and there’s a freshness to the whole brand attitude that really resonates with the consumer. So that’s how we came up with it. Then we crossed our fingers and hoped it would work.

Q: Why did you choose to partner with Loblaws instead of a traditional department store like Zellers, as Isaac Mizrahi did with Target in the U.S.?

Carolyn Wilman, Director, Sales & Marketing, Imagination Edge Inc., Oshawa, Ont.

We already had a relationship with Loblaws designing their President’s Choice home products. They had an apparel business, predominantly in their superstores in the West, and they asked me what I would do to change that up. So we talked about a concept and about the positioning.

One thing that was very important with Loblaws was my relationship with the owners. Also, they have President’s Choice, which is one of the most successful private labels ever developed in the world. They know what it takes to put that together and the integrity that has to go into that process. So I felt very comfortable going into this new relationship with them on that basis.

Q: This Christmas is shaping up to be a tough one for retailers. What last-minute advice would you give them to ensure they enjoy strong holiday sales?

Dave Aldan, Toronto

Price promotions will be very important for certain segments of the market. And you shouldn’t cheap out on service at the floor level — or at the checkout. People are impatient, so if you give them time to think about the money they’re spending, they might walk away from a checkout line. You’ve got to be more aggressive in your marketing. Maybe put a push on gift cards, because they’re a little more gift-friendly in terms of being able to exchange a product or convert it to a sale product. So do all the normal things you do — you just have to step it up and try your best to take a bigger piece of the pie.

Q: As a designer, how did you develop the management skills needed to run and expand a successful firm? Or did you have a business partner or executive team that took care of most of the management?

Salvatore Angeli, Toronto

I got my Chartered Accountant degree before getting into the business, and that has helped immensely. Today, good design and good business go hand in hand. You cannot design in a vacuum. You have to design with price points, manufacturing processes and end use in mind. I have been fortunate enough to come at it from the business side.

Q: How do you keep offering the freshest designs and very affordable clothing? Is it through effective supply-chain management?

Joanna Leung, Toronto

Our supply-chain management needs a lot of work. A lot of it is in the know-how of making a product. I started in manufacturing product, and I have years of experience in Asia in how to get the best pricing and quality out of factories.

A lot of it is the ability to edit very quickly. Today, consumers have an abundance of choice — but that’s a problem. What we do is edit it. We cull it down and hone it to ensure we’re making an offering that speaks to the Joe Fresh value proposition.

Q: What is the one lesson you’ve learned that you use every day to be successful?

Christine Galer, Consultant, Total Procurement Solutions, Vancouver

From Day 1 in the business, I learned that if you control your brand, you control your destiny. You can’t let yourself be a small rowboat in an ocean that gets tossed around. That learning came very early. When we were selling to department stores back when they and their buyers had all the power, I realized that once you’ve created a true brand, that power becomes equally shared.

Q: Why aren’t there more high-profile, homegrown retailers in Canada?

Robert Smith, Edmonton

The colonization of our retail landscape has been going on for many, many years. A large retailer from the U.S. can afford to take the risk to come here much easier than a Canadian can going the other way. If they come up here and blow it, it’s nothing for them — it’s like being in another state.

We don’t have the media powerhouses the U.S. has, especially in New York and Hollywood, that can quickly drive awareness levels and big brand perception. And the U.S. attracts all the international brands, so retailers there have already gone through huge competition to establish their position, making them bigger and stronger financially. They can focus on a niche and still have scale, because a niche there is 10 times the size it is here. In Canada, we have to operate in a 3,000-mile sausage, with huge diversity in psychographics and demographics. And we have a country within a country, which is Quebec.

If the Gap or Home Depot or another U.S. company comes into Canada, all the creative is imported: how the windows look, how the advertising looks, what the clothes look like. And that’s a shame. But I’m a big proponent of Canadian creativity. And I think it can be done, and needs to be done.

That’s why it’s important to have Canadian companies like Loblaws. Truly, the ability to do a Joe Fresh comes from their strength. That’s why we could do what we did.

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