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H&M finally threw open the doors of its much-awaited new venture, & Other Stories, on Friday 8 March. The brand’s global debut was made on London’s Regent Street in a 1,200 square metre store spanning two floors. Euromonitor International visited the store to assess whether H&M has struck gold with its novel approach to selling apparel, and what this spells for the retailer best known for its fast fashion expertise.
Upon entering & Other Stories consumers are immediately struck by the unconventional juxtaposition of products. Bags are displayed with shoes among body lotions, jewellery with matching nail polish. Lingerie is not contained within a designated corner but is omnipresent alongside outerwear.
This lack of compartmentalisation is a key facet of the & Other Stories brand ethos. The brand is not positioned as a mere clothing store but rather as a one-stop shop for the building blocks of style, emphasising beauty and accessories as much as ready-to-wear. Consequently, visual merchandising becomes an integral part of the mix.
The store’s minimalistic warehouse interiors set a clean backdrop for the product, which is centred upon four overarching design aesthetics – from ‘Poetic and Dandy’ to ‘Minimalism and Contradiction’, creations of the brand’s Paris and Stockholm ateliers. Categorising product in this fashion urges consumers to shop a mood as opposed to a trend. Forming emotional connections (‘stories’) of this sort with the product lies at the heart of the brand’s concept.
This ethos is evident in the product as well. Whilst offering fresh and contemporary pieces, & Other Stories does not seek to be a purveyor of ‘on-trend’ items but of timeless pieces which can be combined with existing items in consumers’ wardrobes. Even its collaborations are with upcoming designers like Abigail Lorick instead of established fashion houses, further alluding to a less authoritarian view on fashion.
The in-store use of mannequins is also limited. Instead, atmosphere is evoked through campaign imagery, often featuring women caught mid-stride (akin to fashion bloggers) to show products in their element rather than shot in a studio. It is such subtle touches which indicate & Other Stories’ intrinsic digital DNA.
In an era when social media and street-style blogs hold as much, or even more, clout than traditional print and outdoor advertising, & Other Stories has been born out of these elements, rather than latching on to them as an afterthought. Thus, the brand really captures contemporary consumer attitudes towards personal style.
The brand’s website further reinforces this narrative. It features a scrapbook-like overflow of imagery, a mix of candid tableaux, colour cosmetics, prints and textures and high heel-clad feet.
Before the product had been unveiled, Euromonitor International had emphasised the importance of achieving the correct price-quality ration. Whilst veering clear of the luxury segment, & Other Stories’ ready-to-wear prices have hit a sweet spot between economy H&M and premium COS.
Clothing prices range from £12 for a basic tank top to £195 for a leather biker jacket. Whilst the disparities may confuse consumers, prices are aligned with quality. At the top end of the spectrum, high-quality fabrication encourages consumers to invest in these “lasting” wardrobe pieces. As previously conjectured, this new 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.
Fashion is always about looking ahead and figuring out where it is heading next. H&M’s eponymous brand is witnessing an evolution of its own in its attempt to move from trend-follower to trend-setter, making appearances on the red carpet at the Oscars and on the Paris Fashion Week runway. The retailer is clearly hedging its bets against the possibility that the notion of ‘disposable fashion’ may have hit its peak.
The sustained success of & Other Stories, beyond the hype surrounding its initial opening, remains pinned on this reversal of consumer attitudes. If the notion of fast fashion has become so ingrained in the minds of consumers, particularly in Western Europe where the brand is making its debut, & Other Stories’ slow and thoughtful approach to fashion could be a hindrance, unless consumers fully understand its message. Currently, the odds are in the brand’s favour, due to a strong and consistent concept which is communicated through all consumer touch points.
Which brings us to the brand’s other challenge – whether the concept is strong enough for a global rollout. There are very few markets in which the notion of street style and blogging is as sophisticated as it is in Western Europe. The vast majority of consumers, particularly in markets which hold much future apparel market growth, still seek style direction.
If H&M finds a way to make & Other Stories’ narrative globally relevant, its biggest rival Inditex will certainly have something to worry about.