Joe Mimran, Canada’s shining beacon of good taste, has birthed a brand new fashion label. This time he is outfitting customers right from the cradle. Newborns to age 6, that is: Rise Little Earthling is the name of his “multi-dimensional” brand for Toys “R” Us.
Read: It’s clothing first, layered with community and idealism, including podcasts of daily affirmations, adorable little monster characters and a soft, gender-neutral palette revolutionizing the genre’s glaring primary colour default.
“Yes, I was drawn back in,” Mimran says by phone from his Toronto home. “It’s hard when it’s in your blood,” he says of a career as a brand mastermind that began in the 1970s in dress manufacturing. Today Mimran has some pretty fine laurels to rest on, from the creation of Club Monaco in 1980 through its lifestyle spinoff, Caban, circa 1999; to the Joe Fresh juggernaut; followed more recently by Gry Mattr, a home-office lifestyle product line.
“I did TV for a while,” he says of his star turn on Dragons’ Den. “I did private equity for a while. At this stage of my career, if it’s not special and not something truly worth doing, that I can’t make a difference, I don’t need to do it, I promise you.”
In Rise Little Earthling’s launch collection—divided into categories of Play, Party, Splash (swim) and Dream (sleep)—shoppers will find many hallmarks of Mimran’s esthetic: Breton stripes, of course, and variations on polka dots (here the dots are actually the brand’s “little monsters”). There is seersucker, another Mimran favourite textured pattern, this time wrought in swimwear for the Splash line. That collection also features teensy depictions of the little monster characters riding a surfboard.
Also teensy are the ditsy florals, “very influenced by the country trend, the move to outdoors,” as Mimran describes it. Look also for mini versions of last summer’s big hit for grown-up girls, nap dresses (basically loose striped dresses with ruffled aprons). There are some maternity items—simple, stretchy pieces for that point of pregnancy where function comes first (but you still want to look pulled together). Next on the agenda are some home and lifestyle items for the nursery.
The RLE brand itself is ambitious, says Vic Bertrand, the CEO of Toys “R” Us, who approached Mimran to overhaul the clothing category from the ground up for the chain’s 81 stores and online platforms. “Joe nailed it,” says Bertrand, adding that “a purpose-driven brand is a pretty high mark to hit, versus a consumer-driven brand.” By that, Bertrand means that the brand is trying to connect more deeply with parents and their kids than just selling them clothes.
The manifestation of that desire to do good are the brand’s mascots, the “little monsters” cartoon characters who each represent different aspirational and inspirational aspects: the dreamer, the adventurer, the advocate. They are meant to teach children the value of self-care and are tied to an upcoming launch on Apple podcasts of daily affirmations for parents to play and recite with their children. “It was our way of bringing personality and social responsibility into the brand and mission,” says Mimran, “embedding (the monster characters) in our graphics, labels, prints. We wanted to lead with kindness and these characters show the way.”
Rise Little Earthling is what Mimran refers to as “popularly priced, but with the feel of an indie brand.” Prices range from $4 to $29. Here, Mimran waxes on about the “handfeel” of the clothes, meaning literally how it feels in your hand, which is very soft, with a “peached” finish. “The knitted fabrics, it is stunning how they feel.”
His enthusiasm, as always, is infectious, even uplifting. After a meeting, even a phone call, with Joe Mimran, you are riding a wave of his positivity for the first little while afterward, like getting off an amusement ride and still feeling out of time and space. Charismatic people can do that; Mimran’s charisma carries over into making products you want to buy.
In the way Calvin Klein came to represent sophisticated New York ’90s minimalism and that Ralph Lauren embodied all-American frontier preppy, Joe Mimran is synonymous with a harder to characterize but easy to recognize concept: good taste. (It’s no wonder Lauren bought his Club Monaco concept in 1999.) Mimran uses the expression “taste level” often in conversation, as a way to convey the invisible line connecting all his brands over the years. What he means is clean design, a crispness of silhouette, a commitment to good fabrics and classic patterns. He has worked with many of the same design team members since early in his career and brought them along again for this brand’s gestation.
“Design is at the forefront of this brand and of everything we do,” says Mimran. “To make designs that only a few people are going to wear is one thing. This is accessible. It has been a hallmark of mine; I’ve always wanted to make very accessible design at a taste level,” so classic and timeless. “But still hitting the chord of the moment.”
Now a grandfather (he has two grandkids, aged nearly two and five, and laments being separated from them by the U.S. border through the pandemic), Mimran has been listening to what matters to today’s parents. In an era when the glut of fast fashion and the industry’s effect on the environment is a concern to all, Rise Little Earthling is being careful to set intentions here. The cottons are, in the main, organic sourced; the swimwear is recycled fabric; dyes are used minimally; plastic hangers have been replaced by cardboard.
As Mimran acknowledges, “The industry has always had its challenges. The industry makes so much product around the world. It has always tried to be at the forefront; they want to embrace [sustainability], they really do.” He adds that the consumer is driving transparency and traceability. “This is particularly important for this demographic. The clothing is manufactured in China and India, limited to four factories that have all met the proper standards and we are very happy with.”
About those aforementioned podcasts, Mimran is quite taken with the new medium to carry the message of a brand. The brand planning began 16 months ago and wound up being a perfect pandemic project for him. “The use of affirmations in a daily practice can make a big difference in a child’s life. It can change your brain waves.” He sees this as part of the brand’s aspiration to nurture great future leaders. “I grew up with my mother telling me every day that I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. That is something I subconsciously carry with me to this day. It is important we make those statements to our kids and that they learn to say it about themselves.”
One thing is for sure, whatever she whispered in his ear, Joe Mimran’s mother raised a man with drive. Before he hangs up, he lets slip there may be another new project in the pipeline. Something else has drawn Mimran in yet again.
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