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Joe Fresh: The Canadian fashion label that consistently wins us over

As I sat waiting for the Joe Fresh show to start, I watched the rows fill with a healthy combination of Rosedale society meets West end “It girls.” The fashion writers and editors who matter were in attendance, well-dressed and alert. The tent was abuzz.

Joe Fresh is consistently the hottest fashion week ticket. Every boldface name in Toronto wants a seat. It is the one show that National Post’s Shinan Govani makes sure to attend; always a juicy web of politics and power. Certainly, the excitement is a testament to Joe Mimran’s talent and longevity in the biz. But it’s more than that. What I’m about to say may ignite a few but I believe it is a valid comparison: Joe Fresh is to Canada is what H&M is to Sweden. The Canadian fashion brand is a source of pride that is well poised for international success. We all want to be a part of the story. Or at the very least, witness it.

Since its launch in 2006, the Canadian fashion label’s revenue, growth, brand loyalty and media praise has been steady. No, phenomenal. When I first heard that Loblaw Superstores were going to carry khakis and knitted sweaters I rolled my eyes and blurted out a “HA! Good luck.” I mean, who wants to buy a trench coat on aisle 6? Apparently, most Canadians.

A year later, what began as a cool thing for suburbanite soccer moms (“Just gonna grab some socks for Jeremy when I go pick up the frozen lasagna tonight!”) turned into something that this Queen West girl became fascinated with. Women I knew, cool and stylish ones, would kind of brag about a stripey shirt, “Joe Fresh, $19!” I found myself wanting to shop and actually planning trips to Loblaws. It was shocking.

When Shedoesthecity launched in 2007, I attended my first Toronto Fashion Week. World MasterCard FW12 marks my 10th time covering the semi-annual celebration of Canadian fashion design. Truth be told, my background, expertise and passion wasn’t the fashion industry; Shedoesthecity began as a site that hooked readers with semi-scandalous tales of late night revelry. However, I soon learned that if you start a lifestyle site that covers “happenings” for women, you become a fashion writer pretty quickly.

My self-taught education about the Canadian fashion industry began around the same time that Joe Fresh started becoming cool. I have enjoyed watching the Joe Fresh brand grow; from the introduction of cheek stains and lip gloss to flipping open a VOGUE and seeing our homegrown brand on a super slick two-page ad. And that’s just a tease of what is set to explode in Manhattan this Spring.

Designer Joe Mimran is brilliant. The Weston family (Loblaw owners) were smart to partner with him and the timing was right; the affordable label launched just in time to cash in on the recession. But it’s not just serendipitous timing. The marketing is genius, the PR department is stacked with the very best and the fashion is remarkably appealing to both the Markham mom and the trendsetting twenty-something. If the US wasn’t in such a complicated economic state, I would recommend buying stock. But I’m no analyst…and the world is pretty fucked right now.

Did I love the show? It doesn’t matter. Like everyone who packed the tent, I’m already sold. I won’t race out and buy a split-pea green coat or a sweater that looks like our flag BUT I will waltz into the Queen West Joe Fresh store every time I walk by. More often than not, I’ll end up walking out with something. Cute, cheap: even when my bank balance is alarming, I am able to justify a Joe Fresh spend.

The only remaining question is: How the hell do they do it? I’m waiting for either a factory tour or a Mimran Memoir.

~ Jen McNeely

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