Photo: Al Downham

Joe helps Ryerson look fresh

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By Al Downham

Ryerson is partnering with massive clothing brand Joe Fresh to create “Canada’s first Fashion Innovation Centre” nurturing young fashion-affiliated entrepreneurs and businesses.

“It’s important in the way of saying, a Canadian fashion brand is investing in education,” said Ryerson School of Fashion chair and Fashion Zone executive director Robert Ott. “It’ll give entrepreneurs advice they couldn’t get out of a book or internet.”

Joe Fresh will donate $1 million – distributed over four years in $250,000 chunks – to create The Joe Fresh Centre at Ryerson’s Fashion Zone. Ott said the reach of the Fashion Zone, Canada’s first centre promoting entrepreneurship in fashion through hands-on assistance, will grow with the partnership.

“It allows us to contact individuals with ideas that may not have thought of joining the Fashion Zone in the past,” said Ott.

Nicole Plener, Joe Fresh’s public relations manager, said the brand partnered with Ryerson because of the university’s “impressive track record of mentoring and launching start-ups” for Canadian businesses.

“Joe Fresh recognized [our vision] is close to their own so the relationship started naturally,” said Fashion Zone marketing director Ayyyna Budaeva.

Joe Fresh founder Joe Mimran’s initiative to support Canadian talent began during Toronto’s 2014 October Fashion Week, saying his company will focus on the “future talent of the country.”  With the new centre underway, Joe Fresh and Ryerson plans to work with 21 ambitious fashion-inspired businesses. According to Budaeva, business owners will be given advice on “production, manufacturing, marketing, promotional and more” from industry leaders.

“[Fashion entrepreneurs] can come up with amazing garments and creative fashion business ideas, but don’t know how to make it happen,” said Budaeva. “This is where Joe Fresh can step in by giving guidance on how to run and navigate the venture.”

It’s unknown what industry leaders will mentor program participants, but Ott said they’ll be from an array of sectors in the fashion industry. Even Joe Fresh president Mario Grauso “hopes to work directly” with the innovators.

“We’re looking for people with different experiences, but they’re usually entrepreneurs or ‘in-trepreneurs,’” said Ott. “They’re people working within a larger company with entrepreneurial thinking.”

After working with fashion professionals, participants graduating the 18-month program will receive a certificate of completion. Applications for the program begin March 26, open to anyone over age 18 with a business prototype and passion for fashion.

“People normally associate fashion entrepreneurship with a designer making their own line,” said Ott. “We’re purely fashion inspired. We’re looking at people’s ideas in services, new manufacturing approaches, solutions for good retail, tech, wearables. It’s beyond flashing lights on pretty dresses.”

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