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“The allure of colour. Subscribe and be inspired” reads the website of H&M’s new brand, & Other Stories. Very little other information is provided, other than a link to its elusive promotional videos. This covert affair, which focuses on evoking emotions rather than splashing high-end celebrities and low-end prices across billboards, sets the tone for H&M’s foray into the premium end of the market.
The company’s past over-dependence on its flagship brand as its primary growth vehicle has been a key reason for the growing gap with its biggest rival Inditex. With a sound distribution strategy in place and a history of building a globally successful brand, & Other Stories could well be the catalyst needed to bring H&M up to speed.
& Other Stories is scheduled to make its debut in spring 2013, with seven stores in Europe’s most fashionable cities. They will be opened in prestigious retail locations, such as Regent Street in London and Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris, staying aligned with the brand’s upmarket image. This limited store presence will also add to the brand’s exclusivity and therefore help create demand.
A key facet of & Other Stories will be the fact that its e-commerce operations will launch alongside its retail stores, in 10 European markets. This will certainly play to its favour, given the channel’s fervent growth, and the problems the H&M brand has encountered in launching its US e-commerce platform. A sound online strategy will further increase brand awareness and help understand potential customers for future store expansion.
Whilst & Other Stories’ product line is yet to be unveiled, the brand places emphasis on “lasting” wardrobe pieces that consumers will be willing to invest in. The philosophy is a complete paradox to H&M’s current raison d’être, which is pushing quantity over quality.
Whilst the name itself may not trip easily off the tongue, it makes for a nifty suffix for its current promotions. These teaser trailers appear to focus on details and craftsmanship, displaying a more thoughtful approach to fashion, and going against the “fast fashion” movement which lies at the core of H&M.
This new ‘investment’ philosophy could either appeal to an older, more affluent demographic or provide H&M’s existing consumers with more classic pieces to complement their cheaper, trend-driven H&M items. Furthermore, entering the premium space is a wise move for H&M to hedge its bets against the possibility of fast fashion fatigue.
Even in the current economic climate, mass market apparel companies have been eyeing higher price tiers, most recently highlighted by Gap’s acquisition of luxury boutique chain Intermix, as well as Fast Retailing’s acquisition of super premium jeans label J Brand. Whilst H&M has chosen to enter this segment through brand creation versus acquisition, its extensive knowledge of the mass market places it in a prime position for understanding the purchasing habits of aspirational luxury consumers.
Which brings us to two crucial questions: Firstly, just how high end will H&M take this venture? Price positioning, alongside the product itself, will define & Other Stories’ prospects for success. Given H&M already has a higher priced brand, COS, the new label is likely to bare further elevated price tags.
Secondly, to what extent will consumers be aware of the brand’s association with H&M? As the disposable fashion legacy looms large over the parent company, consumers are bound to question the credibility of a ‘luxury’ brand from the same house. Even a hint of shared provenance with the cheap chic flagship brand could tarnish & Other Stories’ premium image.
Whilst the “allure of colour” and other promotional stories may enchant consumers, only the correct price-quality ratio will ensure they buy into the brand.