Tilley’s iconic hat has always been a symbol and celebration of traveling on Safari-level expeditions, but it’s safe to say Joe Mimran is about to take the brand where it has never gone before.
This month, for instance, the creative force who first became known for his work at Club Monaco and Joe Fresh will oversee the opening of a new Tilley retail location on Toronto’s trendy Ossington Ave. Although not too far from a previous outlet at Queen’s Quay Terminal, it represents a seismic shift in terms of the kind of customer Mimran and his team are cultivating.
Then there is the product line, which now spans down jackets, flannel sheets, waffle robes and, most prominently, a bucket hat that has become the border for Tilley’s reimagined logo.
Mimran – who with his business partners at Gibraltar & Company took a controlling interest in Tilley in 2018 – said he began taking a hands-on role with the company when he recognized a unique creative challenge: to invigorate a beloved brand without alienating its existing customer base.
“The business was essentially the one hat,” Mimran told Menswhere in an interview. “And it was the hat that everybody kind of knew. At the same time, it’s a Canadian company that had no winter assortment. And it was a company that never attempted to extend itself.”
For decades, you could argue Tilley (also known as Tilley Endurables), could afford to rest on its heritage. Founded in 1980 by Alex Tilley and initially sold out of his Don Mills home, the company’s hats were worn by the Canadian sailing team at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. When the Gulf War broke out in the early 1990s, they were worn by the armed forces to protect soldiers from harsh desert conditions.
What Tilley hats may have lacked was cachet among younger, more fashion-conscious men. That will likely change when you look at Tilley’s website today, featuring fresh-faced models looking effortlessly comfortable in an array of bucket hat styles.
Although Tilley had sold bucket hats before, Mimran wanted to bring it back with a palette that transcended its traditional khaki.
“I went to the existing management and said, ‘I want to do the bucket hat and I want to do it in colors.’ They said ‘Oh, we don’t sell color,’” he said. Since then, a bucket hat in orange has become one its bestselling items online.
“It talked to a different customer segment,” Mimran explained. “We didn’t want to age out with our existing customer, but we want to make sure that we started to evolve the brand. This is a brand that absolutely screams authenticity.”
Part of that authenticity is linked to innovation, Mimran said. That’s why his focus has not only been on varying colors but fine details. The bucket hats feature thin down, which reduces the risk of sagging. Eighty per cent of its fabrics, meanwhile, come from recycled materials – a planet-friendly statement that speaks to the values of sustainability-minded consumers.
Tilley products are also sold at a price point that makes them a premium brand – witness a Merino wool sweatshirt that’s made in Japan and costs $350 – which Mimran said calls for the best in luxury design. His target customer is investing both in a product that can handle anything but also looks incredible.
“We’re trying to position ourselves in many categories, whether it be track, whether it be golf, whether it be travel – these are all areas again where performance is at the heart of the apparel,” he said. “We now have 20 designers and product developers working on innovation and product and we’re committed to making this a really important, great Canadian brand.”
That not only means offering a more diverse selection of product, but curating a thoughtful and intentional shopping experience. It’s why Mimran refers to the new Ossington location as a “neighbourhood store,” an intimate space where the renovation focused on enlarging the front window, maintaining the original floors and displaying the apparel in a warm, natural oak interior.
“I wanted a street that had an indie feel to it, but with a sophistication,” Mimran said. “We didn’t build an opulent flagship store, we built a neighborhood store, because we didn’t want it to feel pretentious in any way.”
The end result is intended to be welcoming to Tilley’s loyalists as well as its next generation of fans – including those who might be surprised to see this kind of a launch happening close to winter.
“Nobody knows us for being a ‘fourth quarter brand,’” Mimran admits. “We are treading very carefully, because our existing customer is a wonderful customer. But we think that the brand can be much more than that than it has been.”