By  on September 27, 2013

Joe Fresh has hired Mario Grauso as chief operating officer, a new position geared to help put the brand on the global stage.

Joe Fresh is currently distributed only in North America and, in the past few years, has focused on opening stand-alone stores in Canada and the U.S. and rolling out shops inside J.C. Penney stores. Grauso will be responsible for overseeing the daily operations of the business, as well as new strategic partnerships and international retail expansion. He starts Oct. 7 and will report to Joe Mimran, president of Joseph Mimran & Associates Inc. and creative director of the Joe Fresh brand for Loblaw Cos. Ltd., which owns the brand. Mimran founded Joe Fresh.

“The company has gotten to a size where we really felt we needed a chief operating officer to help me continue to grow the business and take it to the next level,” Mimran told WWD. “We’ve been searching for the right individual. Mario has great credentials, just having left Vera Wang as president, managing her business and brand and driving it domestically through licensing and strategic partnerships and expanding it internationally. That was the level of experience we were looking for. This gives me more time to focus on the creative part of the business, which is the key driver.”

Mimran said Grauso would be second in command at Joe Fresh.

Mimran declined to specify the volume of Joe Fresh, noting that the brand is part of Loblaw in Canada. Loblaw, which sells Joe Fresh in its stores, has had a big year, recently agreeing to acquire Shoppers Drug Mart for $12.4 billion, and forming a real estate investment trust. “The company has been very, very active,” Mimran noted.

He declined to say much specifically on the growth strategy, but did say, “Bringing Mario in is a signal that we are looking for more growth, outside of North America and within North America.”

Asked about the possibility of getting Shoppers Drug Mart to sell Joe Fresh products, he replied, “There could probably be some component. Certainly our cosmetics could go into Shoppers Drug Mart. Maybe some other categories, too. But that deal still hasn’t closed yet. It’s a big integration process. We haven’t looked at it all to see what would be viable.”

Aside from Loblaw in Canada, the other big distribution channel for Joe Fresh is J.C. Penney Co. Inc. in the U.S., which has had a tumultuous year involving huge losses, management changes and industry concerns regarding the future. Joe Fresh is sold in shops-in-shop at almost 700 Penney’s stores.

“We have just been working with their team,” Mimran said. “Obviously, there have been changes in their strategy, and we have been working through it with them and trying to get to a place consistent with their strategy. We are still in the early days with JCP. We are very cognizant of what they are going through. That’s another reason Mario has come in. He has managed those types of relationships before.” Mimran declined to comment on how Joe Fresh is performing at Penney’s, though he did say there has been no change in the number of doors where Joe Fresh is sold.

Joe Fresh’s next big opening will be in New York’s SoHo, on Oct. 10, in a site just more than 14,000 square feet on Broadway just north of Grand Street. “We have another location yet to be announced in the New York area,” which will open next year. “We are looking at other locations outside of New York,” Mimran said.

On the international front, “We are working on something, we are pretty close.”

Grauso said he would work out of Joe Fresh’s offices in New York and Toronto. “I have admired Joe’s work in the past,” Grauso said. “He started Club Monaco and sold it to Ralph Lauren. I thought it was a tremendous success. He has mastered a formula where the branding and imagery match the product successfully and really speaks to the consumer.”

Grauso did get into the expansion strategy a bit, saying, “There are clearly at least 20 cities in U.S. that need to have a Joe Fresh store, if not multiple locations. Some cities can clearly host more than one. There are tremendous growth opportunities.” Joe Fresh currently has only six stores in the U.S., all in New York. In Canada, there are 15 stores.

As far as international expansion, “I think Asia is an obvious first step,” Grauso said. “The Asian market is equally interested in affordable, branded lifestyle apparel and retail concepts. Joe Fresh is a natural fit.” He also said he sees the potential for more growth in Canada.

Grauso has more than 20 years of experience in the fashion industry. Most recently he was president of the Vera Wang Group, beginning in 2009. Earlier, Grauso was president of Puig Fashion, the parent company of Carolina Herrera, Nina Ricci and Paco Rabanne. He has also held executive positions at Céline, Giorgio Armani, Escada and Calvin Klein.

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