In anticipation of the most-awaited fashion giant opening on Saturday in Kuala Lumpur, Nadia Badarudin goes to Stockholm to visit the birthplace of H&M
THE opening of a Hennes & Mauritz AB or H&M fast-fashion store can be likened to a sell-out rock concert — long lines, with some queuing up from the night before.
When the Swedish retail store arrived in Harajuku in 2008 to woo Japan’s fashion-forward youth, 3,000 had waited in line for the store to open and the line snaked until Shibuya, about 15 minutes’ distance by foot. The response was overwhelming although Harajuku is H&M’s second store in Japan (after Ginza).
A similar response was also seen closer to Malaysia when H&M opened its first Southeast Asian store at Orchard Road, Singapore last year. Customers had camped overnight outside the three-storey premises in an attempt to be the first to enter the store.
The frenzy is phenomenal for a company which started off as Hennes, a humble store selling women’s clothing in Vasteras, Sweden, 65 years ago.
Founded by Erling Persson, the multinational retail clothing company has grown by leaps and bounds, stamping its signature red H&M label on some 2,600 stores in more than 40 countries.
H&M is popular for its wide variety of fast-fashion clothing for men, women, teenagers and children. Fast-fashion, according to Wikipedia, is so named because “the collections are based on the recent spring and autumn trends presented at Fashion Week every year, and are manufactured quickly and cheaply to allow the mainstream consumer to take advantage of the latest styles at a lower price”.
And at a H&M store, fast-fashion also means "fast-selling” due to high demand triggered by its smart practice of “store renewal” — it adds new items or changes its displays every day.
INSPIRING FASHION EXPERIENCE
H&M has a wide variety of clothing, footwear, accessories and cosmetics for shoppers to mix and match, to suit their personal styles or experiment with the latest trends.
The collections, ranging from the basics and casual daywear to power suits and party collections for all shapes and sizes (maternity and plus size collections included), can be worn through multiple seasons, prolonging their durability and sustainability. And practical fashion is the label's prevalent strength.
“At H&M, customer focus is important. We want customers to be able to dress to suit their personalities.
“We offer inspiring and functional fashion for everyone and for every occasion. That’s our advantage,” says Ann-Sofie Johansson, head of design at H&M head office in Stockholm, Sweden. “When I started my career, fashion was dictated by the Paris catwalk, but not anymore.
“It’s about creating your own style rather than being dictated by fashion, and that makes fashion more fun and liberating. It’s more fun to dress, and mix and match,” she says.
The collections are the combined work and passion of more than 100 in-house designers, buyers and pattern makers as well as 94,000 employees worldwide.
The creative jobs and research are mainly done in the White Room at H&M's design department, where different collections are developed simultaneously.
“We work a year ahead for each season. We work on different collections simultaneously, but at different paces according to the fashion segments. Children’s wear, for example, moves a little slower compared to women’s clothing.”
The collections draw inspiration from various sources. “We travel a lot, and we take note of fashion shows and reports, textile fairs, art exhibitions, books and magazines, celebrities, movies, television and, of course, music festivals and rock concerts.
“Street fashion and fashion bloggers give us ideas too,” adds Johansson.
She admits that it is challenging to maintain a balance between making quality, value-for-money clothing and staying abreast of the latest trends.
Besides having few middlemen, and buying the right materials from the right market at the right time to keep costs low, the company ensures that each employee works within its business concept.
“We’re cost-conscious at every level, and work within the company's business framework, which is to offer fashion and quality at the best price.”
“We stand for democratic fashion — we offer affordable styles for everyone, from the basics to the latest trends,” says H&M chief executive officer Karl-Johan Persson.
In line with the company’s continuous move to expand globally, Malaysia will have its first H&M store at Lot 10 in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur’s most prominent retail belt. Spanning 3,345square metres, the three-storey full concept store will open on Saturday. Persson describes the venture as a perfect fit between the thriving Malaysian fashion market and H&M’s business values and targets. “We’ve started looking at the market five years ago and we find the country interesting.
“Being a multi-racial and multi-cultural country with a growing economy and high fashion interest, there is an enormous opportunity for us,” he says.
On competitors, Persson says bringing new fast-fashion merchandise to the stores continuously is among the company’s strategy to gain an edge over other retailers such as Zara, Topshop, Mango and Uniqlo.
“Quality means more than just ensuring that our garments meet our strict requirements of function and safety. We also want customers to feel confident that everything from H&M is designed, manufactured and handled with consideration for people and the environment.
“We’re doing well and will continue to co-exist with other retailers,” he says.
Persson says “happiness” should be the first word on one's lips when describing H&M.
“Customers find happiness in an H&M store because they find lots of fun, fashionable garments. I also want them to have a happy shopping experience when meeting my colleagues at the stores.
“And to offer such experience, we always ensure that we offer employees a fun environment to work in.”
H&M is among a handful of fashion retail giants which believe in making the dream of luxury fashion come true.
The Swedish label initiated designer collaborations in 2004, starting with the legendary Karl Lagerfeld; the collections sold out in just a few hours after they went on sale in 20 stores across Europe.
The company collaborates with top designers, fashion icons and celebrities several times a year. Among those who have teamed up with the fast-fashion Goliath are Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, Madonna, Roberto Cavalli, Comme des Garcons, Matthew Williamson, Jimmy Choo, Sonia Rykiel, Lanvin, Versace, Marni, Anna Dello Russo and Maison Martin Margiela.
David Beckham Bodywear, an exclusive, long-term collaboration with H&M, has become an instant global success following its launch in February.
“We always think of interesting personalities who can offer something unique to collaborations.
“The partnership should jive with H&M’s aim to surprise customers too,” says H&M creative adviser, Margareta van den Bosch, who is behind the A-List celebrities’ look.
The company maintains exclusiveness by producing collections in limited numbers.
“The collections usually will be made available to select stores worldwide. It is important to maintain limited numbers — someone, not all, will be happy to grab that exclusive one piece,” says the veteran designer, citing collaborations with Versace, Marni and French couture house Lanvin as among the most memorable ones.
H&M FAST FACTS
• The sale of men’s and children’s clothing began in 1968 after Erling Persson bought the hunting and fishing equipment store, Mauritz Widforss. The store name was then changed from Hennes to Hennes & Mauritz.
• H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB comprises five independent labels: H&M,COS, Monki, Weekday and Cheap Monday. It also offers basic babywear bearing the EU’s eco-label, the Flower, that represents restrictions on harmful chemicals and reduced water pollution throughout the production chain.
• Online shopping is available in 18 European countries.
• H&M outsources and buys product from 700 independent suppliers, mainly in Asia and Europe.
• H&M is the biggest user of organic cotton in the world. It aims to have all cotton from more sustainable sources in its range by 2020.
• Its Conscious Collections are made from sustainable materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester/polyamide/cotton/wool and plastics, organic linen and hemp as well as Tencel (manufactured from cellulose certified by the Forest Stewardship Council).
• Besides using low-energy bulbs at the stores, H&M reuses and recycles hangers to conserve the environment.
Get in line
THE H&M store at Lot 10, Kuala lumpur opens on Saturday at 11am.
The first in line will get a RM500 gift card, 2nd to 5th get RM200 gift cards and the following 300 lucky ones, a RM50 gift card each.