Q&A: Joe Fresh founder Joe Mimran on the worst part of joining Dragons’ Den: the clothes

Q&A: Joe Fresh founder Joe Mimran on the worst part of joining Dragons’ Den: the clothes

Joe Mimran
(Image: courtesy of CBC)

You left your baby, Joe Fresh, in March, and you’ll become a Dragon this fall. Why the switch?
CBC asked me several times over the years, but I never had the time until now. And when you’ve been in the spotlight for as long as I have, there’s a shock effect when it’s over. Dragons’ Den is a great way to keep my profile up.

What’s the filming process like?
Gruelling. It’s 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with one hour for lunch, for four weeks solid.

And you’re required to wear the same outfit throughout. What’s that like?
It’s fashion purgatory! It’s like Jean-Paul Sartre’s world, where there are no mirrors. It’s my personal hell.

How long did it take to settle on the dark suit and blue tie combo?
Not too long. It’s a classic style. I didn’t want to look flamboyant or like a carny.

On the show, Jim Treliving is the veteran, Mike Wekerle is the wild man, newbie Michele Romanow is the techie, and Manjit Minhas, another newbie, is the sweetheart. Where do you fit in?
I’m the velvet fist: even-keeled, high tolerance for nonsense, but when I reach my boiling point, it’s not pretty.

Have you lost it during filming?
Once or twice. I was on my best behaviour for the first couple of weeks, but once I got comfortable, yeah.

Have you made any investments yet?
Yes. I’ve invested in 18 companies, ranging from consumer goods to tech.

You sold Club Monaco to Ralph Lauren in 1999 in a deal worth $122 million. What was the incentive to leave Joe Fresh?
I still have a financial interest in the international business. I’ve been working with Loblaw on my exit strategy for a number of years, and there were all kinds of financial incentives for me to do that.

Were you nudged out by Galen Weston Jr. and the Loblaw board?
No. Galen and I talked about the plan for quite some time. It’s a fast-paced industry, and I’ll be 63 this year. About 18 months ago, I found Mario Grauso, then-head of Vera Wang, to replace me.

For all of Galen’s merits, he could use some style advice. Care to assist?
Haha! I don’t know if that’s true. He wears nicely tailored suits, and he has become such an iconic figure in Canada. Sometimes it’s better that people be who they are and not try and be somebody else. He…um…I…

Do you want a pass on that question?

In 2016, Joe Fresh is pulling out of all 700 JC Penney stores in the U.S. and closing six of its seven N.Y.C. locations. Would that happen on your watch?
Absolutely. JC Penney has a new CEO who has gone in the opposite direction of what Joe Fresh represents, which is everyday great value.

Joe Fresh is facing the threat of a $2-billion class action lawsuit from the victims of the Bangladesh building collapse. They claim Joe Fresh had a responsibility to ensure the building’s safety. Are they right?
The question is, how much oversight should companies have when they contract labour overseas? Should we be doing engineering checks on the buildings? No other industry does that. But it’s a responsibility that has now been forced upon the apparel industry because of the disaster.

What did you make of John Oliver’s stunt on Last Week Tonight where he sent cheap food of dubious origin to the Joe Fresh office to mimic the garment industry’s production practices?
I think what you put on your body and what you put in your body are two different things. But the stunt brings attention to a very serious subject, and it’s one the industry has to solve together.

Is there a solution?
For sure. As producing countries become wealthier, they become better able to meet safety standards. It’s what has happened in China and Korea.

One perk of going from Joe Fresh to Dragons’ Den: you get to ask the thorny questions instead of answering them.
That’s right—thankfully!