Inside Joe Fresh's new Fashion Incubator in Toronto
Last year, retail giant Joe Fresh shook things up by partnering with Ryerson University to open The Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation, an incubator program that promotes the growth of fashion-oriented startups and the Canadian fashion industry as a whole. A whopping $1 million investment allows it to facilitate up to 21 small businesses over a span of four years.
Modeled after the university's award-winning DMZ incubator program and existing as part of their Fashion Zone, the Centre supports entrepreneurs by providing ample workspace and access to startup funds, as well as endless resources, services, mentorship and networking opportunities.
With the aid of a panel of fashion and business leaders, The Joe Fresh Centre selected six pioneering companies to take under its wings last fall. Though vastly distinct from one another, each innovator shows promise and breaks new ground in their respective spheres.
For instance, Love Winter is a footwear brand offering Russian Valenki felt boots with removable galoshes for harsh Canadian weather, whereas StyleID is a mobile app that helps customers shop the fashions they see on television.
Formen, a men's makeup and skincare line, is a particularly intriguing startup on the current roster. The company focuses on inconspicuous cosmetics and clinical skincare, topped off with clean, consistent branding.
Because such a product isn't as readily available in the West as it is in countries like South Korea, there's an opportunity for immense growth - especially with the resources offered by the incubator program.
I spoke to Andrew Grella, the brand's founder, who said his next moves include obtaining exclusive rights to the formulas and distributing in Asia's existing men's cosmetics market. Both goals are within close reach as The Joe Fresh Centre offers access to legal services and connections to international department stores.
Blanc de Noir, Klothed and Wear Your Label are more names on this first cycle. When these entrepreneurs complete the 18-month program, they'll walk away with valuable experiences, refined skills and a whole whack of new connections. Ryerson will also grant them academic certificates as an added bonus.
While Joe Fresh's program is certainly not the first of its kind (The Toronto Fashion Incubator has been nurturing young entrepreneurs forever), its dedication to developing small businesses - as well as Canada's fashion industry - is respectable all the same.
The Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation is now accepting new applications online through February.
Photos by Jesse Milns.