TORONTO • Joe is saying goodbye to Joe Fresh.
Grocery retailer Loblaw Cos. Ltd. has confirmed that Joe Mimran, the design maven behind Club Monaco and the founder of Loblaw’s cheap chic house clothing line, is handing over control of the brand he created nine years ago to current Joe Fresh president, Mario Grauso.
Handout/Joe Fresh/Loblaw Mario Grauso, left, and Joe Mimran, right.
“As I step back from my day-to-day responsibilities, I’m happy to pass the baton to Mario and his team – experienced hands committed to our shared vision,” Mr. Mimran told the Financial Post.
“I look forward to seeing the continued growth of Joe Fresh as we introduce this iconic Canadian brand to new markets and customers around the globe.”
Mr. Mimran, 62, has been a stylish ambassador of the Joe Fresh brand since its debut, appearing frequently at society events wearing pieces of the men’s collection mixed with luxury blazers and loafers. Loblaw asked Mr. Mimran to create the brand after Walmart Canada rolled out the clothing brand George, a successful line from the mass merchant’s British division, Asda.
Unlike Loblaw’s other general merchandise initiatives, which saw the retailer get into categories such as housewares, electronics and décor, Joe Fresh was an unprecedented hit for the retailer when it launched in 2006, and became even more popular when it introduced kids and baby clothing in 2007.
Mr. Grauso’s transition had been in the works since he was courted by Mr. Mimran to join the Canadian apparel retailer to help kick-start Joe Fresh’s international expansion. That happened just six months after the brand nimbly sidestepped a potential PR nightmare after the April 2013 Bangladesh factory collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers, including members of a group sewing Joe Fresh clothes. Loblaw hired a full-time manager to oversee sourcing and standards in Bangladesh, gave aid to the families of the victims and established protocols to raise working standards in the region.
Mr. Grauso was president of Vera Wang Group before he was named chief operating officer of Joe Fresh in 2013, and was made president of the apparel brand last July.
“Joe is certainly going to look in on us regularly to make sure we stay true to his founding principles,” Mr. Grauso said, vowing Joe Fresh will retain the aesthetic and price point that helped it to become the No. 2 private label apparel line in Canada behind George.
“The roadmap that I am following is one that he and I built together [at Joe Fresh]. Great fashion essentials at an accessible price are key to this business, and those would continue to be my core values.”
Chris Young/The Canadian Press Joe Mimran greets the audience after the Joe Fresh show during Toronto Fashion Week in 2013. Mimran is stepping down from Joe Fresh.
Club Monaco, owned by Ralph Lauren Corp. since 1999, has been able to maintain the striking aesthetic and tone Mr. Mimran, designer Alfred Sung and his brother Saul established when they founded that fashion retailer in 1985, Mr. Grauso added. No changes are being made to the brand or the logo in the wake of Mr. Mimran’s departure. Mr. Grauso, who reported to Mr. Mimran, will now report directly to Loblaw president Galen Weston.
Joe Fresh, which is sold within 340 Loblaw stores including 16 freestanding street front boutiques, went global in 2011 when it opened the first of six stores in New York. It started to open stores overseas with local retail partners in 2014, beginning with South Korea and Saudi Arabia last May. Stores in Mexico and Central America will open this year, and Africa and Europe are markets slated for future growth as part of a plan to open 140 Joe Fresh outlets in 23 countries during the next four years.
The expansion has not been without its snags. The Joe Fresh brand was scaled back to 200 J.C. Penney department stores in the United States after a peak introduction at 683 locations in early 2013, though it escaped the axe that scrapped many of the other new brands introduced by disgraced former CEO Ron Johnson.
In the meantime, Joe Fresh’s annual sales growth in 2014 and 2013 was modest, according to company reports, after flat growth in 2012 as it matured in Canada.
“I am very happy with the direction we are headed in – we are even more focused on our value proposition,” Mr. Grauso said. “I think our team is doing an exceptional job of putting the best product out there at the best price, so I think as we continue to focus on those values, we will see an uptick in the business.”
Steven Sebring Model Karlie Kloss in a Joe Fresh campaign.
To help give Joe Fresh a brand boost, the retailer is launching a widespread marketing campaign this year featuring model Karlie Kloss, who just resigned from Victoria’s Secret after four years as a model for the lingerie company.
As Mr. Mimran cedes control to Mr. Grauso, the Joe Fresh brand faces another critical turning point as executives look to extend parts of the apparel and accessories into Shoppers Drug Mart stores, beginning with the introduction of Joe Fresh cosmetics in the spring of 2016.
After that rollout, industry experts have suggested Loblaw may test scaled down assortments of Joe Fresh baby, sleepwear, underwear and socks at Shoppers.
“One step at a time, but there are other categories we are discussing [for Shoppers],” Mr. Grauso said.
The retailer is also making an effort to expand and improve its shoe assortment, having just signed a deal with Aldo Group shoes for the design of all Joe Fresh’s footwear, which until recently was designed in-house. Those shoes will be introduced in spring of 2016.
“[Aldo] has relationships with many other retailers and brands, and that led me to them,” Mr. Grauso said. “I really admire what they do in this price point. It is very hard to do value oriented footwear now.”
Loblaw will debut a larger family footwear department in 54 Joe Fresh stores next year as it moves to expand more aggressively into the discount footwear business, and the locations are also being refreshed to have a bigger baby and kids’ departments.
Mr. Grauso beefed up Joe Fresh management in anticipation of Mr. Mimran’s exit, hiring Henriette Ernst, who had spent 20 years in design at fashion brands including Calvin Klein, Céline and Jil Sander, as its head of Joe Fresh women’s design. Jose Abellar, former head of the men’s and boy’s design divisions at Old Navy, was hired to lead Joe Fresh men’s design, merchandising and product development teams. And Ian Freedman, former vice-president of strategy and corporate development at George Weston, has taken over Mr. Grauso’s former responsibilities as chief operating officer.