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The Mimrans: simple, clean and modern style

Saul Mimran, centre, his daughter Tamara and son Jordin


When Bonnie Brooks decided to inject a dose of affordable chic into her sleepy apparel business at the Bay, she turned to the Mimran clan.

One of the family members, Joe Mimran, is an industry superstar, well known for his fast-growing Joe Fresh Style line at Loblaw Cos. Ltd. But it was his older brother, Saul Mimran, whom Ms. Brooks, CEO of the Bay, approached last fall to develop a new clothing line.

It's the latest example of what is becoming a trend among some major retailers in Canada - hiring a Mimran to pump up business. The brothers, who operate independently, are becoming leading creators of affordable style as Canadian chains look to fight off international competitors and capitalize on a growing trend toward cheap chic.

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In some cases, the brothers go head-to-head for customers. Last year, Saul's Mimran Group Inc. launched a line called Pure Alfred Sung at Zellers, taking on the Joe Mimran-designed Joe Fresh products at Loblaw. Saul's group also develops home décor products for Zellers and the Bay, while Joe designs home furnishings for Loblaw.

Now, the next generation of Mimrans has entered the fray: Saul's children, Jordin, 27, and Tamara, 25, had a big hand in developing the Bay's latest line.

The two sides of the Mimran family tap into a similar design ethos: simple, clean and modern. similar design inspiration: a simple, clean modern look. Both are betting their sense of style will help their respective retailers take on international cheap-chic giants such as H&M and Zara.

"The Mimran family is a fabulous Canadian resource and becoming a bigger one," said Mary Turner, vice-president of apparel at the Bay, which this week is starting to stock the Mimran Group's new women's wear line, Moon. "Clearly there is overlap … but product development is in their DNA."

The brothers, who founded the Club Monaco clothing chain in 1985, have gone separate ways since selling the retailer to Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. in 1999, but insist they're not direct competitors.

In fact, Joe is still a partner in the Mimran Group, although the brothers are careful to separate their respective businesses. "We don't talk shop," Joe said. "There's no sharing of information."

There does seem to be a healthy sense of rivalry, though. "It gets confusing with Joe and me out there," Saul said with a laugh in his studio of stark whites and glass tables, just a few blocks from Joe's offices in the uber-chic Liberty Village neighbourhood of Toronto. "Especially if  we're in the same room. We really fight for our time."

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Loblaw and Hudson's Bay Co. (HBC) stepped up their reliance on the Mimrans at a time when both retailers needed a lift.

At Loblaw, Joe Fresh is a bright light in Loblaw's latest turnaround efforts. The Joe Mimran-designed line, which launched in 2006, has expanded beyond clothing to include shoes, accessories and beauty products, and is on its way to becoming a $1-billion-a-year brand with standalone stores.

At privately held HBC, which operates Zellers and the Bay, executives are looking to Saul and his partner, designer Alfred Sung, for gains in the highly competitive fashion area. At Zellers, Saul's Pure line is already beating internal growth targets, said Carrie Kirkman, who heads its women's fashion.

At the Bay, Saul's Moon line is aimed at grabbing customers from global fast-fashion retail powerhouses, including Swedish-based Hennes & Mauritz AB and Zara, part of the Spanish-based Inditex SA empire. Those chains brought high fashion to the masses by copying styles on the runways and quickly shipping the cheap chic to stores within weeks, constantly replenishing the racks with fresh items.

To compete with the giants, Saul is sourcing his fashions in China and plans to achieve economies of scale by taking Moon worldwide, beginning next year with a U.S. department-store retailer and an Asian player. He envisions branching out to men's wear and accessories. "If we can bring in more business, we think we can lower costs and become more efficient," he said.

The Mimran influence is growing as the family's trademark style of modern classics finds new popularity, the Bay's Ms. Turner said.

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"Their DNA is clean classics," she said. "This is a multi-million dollar opportunity for us."



Saul Mimran, 60

Born in Morocco; family immigrated to Canada in the mid-1950s.

With his mother Esther, he started Ms. Originals in the 1970s, producing dresses and later, when brother Joe joined the business, women's suits.

Founded Mimran Group Inc. with Joe and designer Alfred Sung in 1979. In the eighties, operated stores under the Sung name, but ran into trouble when a licensee went bankrupt. Today under licence, Mimran sells fragrances, eyewear, bridal lines and home goods to retailers.

Started Monaco Group Inc. with Joe. They launched Club Monaco in 1985, opening their first store on Queen Street West in Toronto. Left in 1999, when the chain's 125 stores worldwide were sold to Polo Ralph Lauren.

Joe Mimran, 57

Born in Morocco; an accountant by profession.

Worked with brother Saul at Ms. Originals and later, Monaco Group Inc.

Launched Club Monaco with brother Saul in 1985, later developing the Caban home furnishings concept. The chain was sold to Polo Ralph Lauren in 1999 and he stayed on another year before leaving.

Has consulted for the wealthy Galen Weston family and its high-end Holt Renfrew chain as well as its Loblaw grocer. He helped his second wife, designer Kimberley Newport Mimran, launch the upscale Pink Tartan line, which is carried at Holt's, the Bay and U.S. retailers.

Rolled out Joe Fresh Style for Loblaw in 2006 and this year is opening the first standalone Joe Fresh stores.

Remains a partner in Monaco Group, where Saul is president, but isn't involved in the business.

Marina Strauss

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About the Author
Retailing Reporter

Marina Strauss covers retailing for The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. She follows a wide range of topics in the sector, from the fallout of foreign retailers invading Canada to how a merchant such as the Swedish Ikea gets its mojo. She has probed the rise and fall (and revival efforts) of Loblaw Cos., Hudson's Bay and others. More

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