J.C. Penney Co. Inc.’s deal with Joe Fresh materialized fast, keeping pace with Penney’s rapid reinvention.

This story first appeared in the July 25, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Ron and I touched base about four months ago, he reached out to me and I told him to visit our flagship in New York,” on Fifth Avenue, Joseph Mimran, the founder of the Toronto-based Joe Fresh brand, said, recalling his first conversation with Penney’s chairman and chief executive officer Ron Johnson. “He shared with me his vision and the repositioning and transformation. For us, it looked like a great opportunity to get a very large footprint in the U.S. very quickly and to do it with someone who is visionary.”

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The two worked out a four-year agreement whereby Joe Fresh designs the shops and supplies the merchandise, which is manufactured by Joe Fresh. The plan is to open Joe Fresh shops in 683 Penney doors, each from 1,000 to 2,500 square feet. Mimran said he will still proceed with rolling out freestanding locations around the U.S. There are currently just six. The deal is reminiscent of Topshop’s decision to open inside Nordstrom stores, unveiled earlier this month, but that’s a much slower rollout, with Nordstrom planning to open 14 Topshop shops-in-store at the outset.

“It’s going to be exciting. It’s bold. It’s aggressive,” said Mimran of Penney’s “store of the future” remodel.

“I buy into the vision — the wider aisles, the self checkout, the cafe, the juice bar, the seating arrangements, the room being offered to the brands and the fact that each brand can have its own voice. It feels right,” he added. “We designed it. I think it’s really important that the brands that populate the store feel like true brands and feel genuine.…There is a long road ahead in terms of getting the productivity up, but we are not going into Penney’s on the basis of today’s performance. We are going in on the basis of tomorrow. There will be enough great brands that will lift the sales overall.”

Mimran is accustomed to operating Joe Fresh within other stores: it is the in-house apparel brand of the Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws, which is owned by the Weston family. The Westons also own Selfridges in London, which is one of the stores that has inspired Johnson’s reinvention of Penney’s.

“It’s Joe’s fixturing, Joe’s price signs. It looks just like Joe Fresh,” said Johnson, standing next to the Joe Fresh shop at the mock-up. “It’s a pure, perfectly branded environment. Joe Fresh is Canada’s number-one brand. It’s affordable fashion for everyone.”

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