I'm pragmatic to the point of dogmatic when it comes to buying things when I'm abroad. If the answer to "Can I buy it in London?" is a firm "No", and the exchange rates are looking good (I permanently have my XE calculator app out on my phone), then I'll make a considered decision. In New York, I have my strict shopping routine of combing through Opening Ceremony (good lot NY/American labels that can't be found in London), flagships of NY labels (Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang, VPL etc etc) and then the routinely once-overs at J. Crew, Madewell, Club Monaco just to sniff out what the New York 'high street' is offering up. It all sounds deathly boring and completely unspontaneous, which might come as a bit of a surprise. Well, that is the STRICTEST of shopping routines if I have say a half a day. A few more days and I might be venturing into taxidermy and antique hat vendors.
I added Joe Fresh to this half-day once-over purely because I spotted a forest green neoprene Balenciaga-ish (Cristobal, not Nicolas Ghesquiere…) coat on Lauren Sherman of Lucky and was also goaded by Tommy Ton of Jak and Jil to go and check out this Canadian chain's first flagship in New York. On name and logo alone, I might have dismissed Joe Fresh as inexpensive clothing that's a little on the plain side of things. After a ten minute gander, a few key pieces jumped out at me, including Lauren's coat (that comes in green and turquoise), a neoprene belted coat in a BRIGHT vivid orange to match the logo and and a matching skirt for $49, which I picked up. I also came away with a grey wool coat with an orange neoprene collar and green neoprene pockets and belt that was a very reasonable $149. The prices are Uniqlo low and the store fit itself has a feeling similar to the Japanese chain.
The astonishing thing about Joe Fresh is its origins. It's a brand created by Joe Mimran for the Canadian food retailer Loblaw Companies Limited and in Canada is mainly sold in these supermarkets and superstores with stand-alone stores only coming into place in the last two years or so. I can't quite picture it, but to me it sounds like shopping at Tu at Sainsbury's, or Tesco's clothing range, neither of which I've ever bought anything from. That's not to say I have anything against the clothes. I'm just not one of those people who can shop for mild cheddar, chorizo, apples and a jumper all in one sitting.
I'm not saying Joe Fresh is DA TOTAL BOMB because the store does have a fair amount of very ordinary officewear, very ordinary knitwear and well… erm… Joe Bloggs clothing (pun TOTALLY intended) but then again, I'm not exactly the primary target customer if I'm zooming in on items made out of neoprene. Instead I'm one of those skulking around for the rare occurences of strange stand-out items, the sort that are more than likely to end up on the sale rail. I'm more than happy to pick up these 'weird' scraps.
P.S. When I Tweeted about Joe Fresh, one person did reply back accusing Joe Fresh of underpaying him/her as a freelance designer, which is one possible reason for the chain's affordable pricing. I hate citing these sorts of examples without solid proof and I wouldn't single out Joe Fresh on account of undercutting designers, but of course, it does call into question whether we should know ALL the underbelly dealings and facts that goes on behind the brands we buy. If we investigated EVERY brand, at EVERY single level from design to sourcing to production to store management, the can of worms would be unstoppable. It's impossible to take all of these factors into consideration without concrete evidence therefore more open cases of charges against fashion houses/chain might help. For example, I no longer shop at American Apparel because quite simply, the reported tawdriness sucks out any desire in me to go in there and get all enthusiastic about a neon singlet. Instead of airing unaccountable grievances through Twitter, I'd urge people to come forth and mount something in public domain to make change possible…