Joe Mimran is exiting Joe Fresh, the company he founded nine years ago, putting Mario Grauso, the president of the brand, in charge of the design team on top of his other responsibilities.
This story first appeared in the March 17, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Grauso said it was Mimran’s decision to leave and that the founder was not forced out. The 62-year-old Mimran will vacate his job as creative director by the end of this week.
“Joe feels that now is the time,” Grauso said. “He wanted to take a step back. I will take over the responsibilities he had in the company. We have a competent design team. They will report to me as opposed to Joe.”
Mimran was not available for comment Monday.
While Mimran’s departure marks the end of an era for the brand, it doesn’t signal a reinvention, according to Grauso. “Nothing changes about the goals. We are still a company focused on great fashion essentials at an exceptional price. The core values stay the same,” he told WWD.
The company is also focused on expansion, recently signing a flurry of partnerships for store openings around the world, adding categories to the mix and extending e-commerce with a U.S. launch. With its overseas partners, Joe Fresh plans to have more than 140 stores operating in 23 countries in a few years.
Joe Fresh is part of Loblaw Cos. Ltd., controlled by the Weston family which also controls the Selfridges Group, which operates Holt Renfrew in Canada, Brown Thomas in Ireland and Selfridges in the U.K.
Last year, the design team at Joe Fresh was reorganized, suggesting the brand could take some new approaches. Henriette Ernst became senior vice president of women’s design and Jose Abellar was named vice president of men’s design. Ernst previously held top design slots at Calvin Klein Collection and Céline, and Abellar previously headed the men’s and boys’ divisions at Old Navy. When Ernst was tapped, she did say that in certain categories “there absolutely could be some improvement” and cited the possibility of creating dressier items.
“These two individuals will now be responsible for the design direction,” Grauso said in an interview Monday. “Joe picked them knowing he was going to take a step back. Clearly, this was always the plan. Over the past 18 months we discussed this so much.”
Grauso joined Joe Fresh as chief operating officer in September 2013 and was promoted to president last summer. He has been orchestrating the global expansion and overseeing strategy, operations, marketing, merchandising, international development and sourcing. Prior to joining Joe Fresh, Grauso was president of Vera Wang Group.
This year, Joe Fresh opens in Latin America, with the first stores opening in Mexico in early summer. Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador will soon follow. Over the next five years, Joe Fresh sees up to 84 locations operating in Mexico and the five Central American countries, including stand-alone stores and shops-in-shop. The Mexican openings are in partnership with El Palacio de Hierro, the upscale, 13-unit department store chain, and in Central America, the partner is Euromoda, a unit of Eurocomer Group. Euromoda will open a minimum of three freestanding units in 2015 and expects a total of 17 by 2019.
Joe Fresh already has extensive distribution in Canada and the U.S., via Loblaw, J.C. Penney and its own stores. Joe Fresh stores also operate in South Korea and the Middle East.
The Joe Fresh distribution at Penney’s has been pared down to 200 locations and Joe Fresh kids is no longer sold at Penney’s, though men’s and women’s merchandise is still sold there. “We cleaned up the store list, but I have to say we are doing well with the 200 doors,” Grauso said. “We started with a far larger store count.” Penney’s, under former ceo Ron Johnson, saw Joe Fresh as a key initiative in the reinvention of the department store retailer, but the brand has been scaled back under Johnson’s successor, Myron “Mike” Ullman 3rd.
In light of his widening role, Grauso said Ian Freedman has become chief operating officer at Joe Fresh “so I can be focused on managing the design talent.” Freedman was at George Weston Ltd., parent of Loblaw, serving as vice president, strategy and corporate development. He was primarily focused on the Joe Fresh business. Earlier, Freedman held senior management roles at Molson Coors Canada.
Grauso previously reported to Mimran. Now he reports directly to Galen Weston, executive vice president of Loblaw. Weston is the son of W. Galen Weston who, with his family, is Canada’s second-richest man with a fortune Forbes estimates at $9.6 billion.
Grauso said he worked closely with Mimran. “I talk to him five times a day.” After next week, “I will call on him whenever I need him. He promised to make himself accessible to me. He is our founder so he will always keep an eye on us.”
It is believed Mimran will spend more time in Palm Beach, where he recently built a home. He also has homes in New York and Toronto, collects contemporary art, is involved with the Pink Tartan fashion collection, which his wife designs, and is president of the Joseph Mimran & Associates design consultancy.
Considering his track record for entrepreneurship, it’s likely Mimran resurfaces on another project. There are rumors of a television project.
The Moroccan-born Mimran, along with his brother Saul, launched the Alfred Sung collection in Canada in 1981. He followed that with the launch of Club Monaco in 1985, which the Ralph Lauren Corp. bought in 1999. In 2002, he launched Pink Tartan with his wife, Kimberley Newport-Mimran, Pink Tartan’s president and design director. In 2006, at the request of Loblaw, he launched Joe Fresh.
“Building Joe Fresh over the past nine years has been an incredible privilege,” Mimran said in a statement. “I’ve worked with a dedicated and talented team and together we have created one of Canada’s leading fashion retailers. Our blueprint of modern style at exceptional prices resonated with customers from the start. It’s gratifying to see that vision expand to new international markets. We’ve organized a seamless transition plan and I’m confident I leave Joe Fresh poised for continued success around the world.”