Thursday, 30 March 2017

Is H&M's New Brand "Arket" A Move Away From Fast Fashion?

The H&M Group has just announced the launch of new brand Arket, a “modern-day market that will offer essential products for men, women, children and home" alongside a range of products from non-H&M brands. Originally reported in the Business of Fashion, H&M's new venture is a calculated move to cash in on the changing shopping behaviour of the millennial generation, but is the brand's focus on "classic, quality products" and "style beyond trend" also a sign that fast fashion might finally be slowing down?


The H&M Group has almost 4,400 stores around the world across their six existing brands, but the company's rapid expansion is showing signs of slowing down, and stores are no longer as profitable as they used to be, leading the company to adapt its 10-15% growth target for 2017 to also include e-commerce. Consumer behaviour is changing as more and more shoppers move online, whilst those that still shop in physical stores now expect "experiences" rather than just products.

This is where Arket comes in, offering its customers "a destination where you can both shop and enjoy healthy food" according to Ulrika Bernhardtz, Arket’s creative director, through the addition of a cafe featuring Nordic cuisine. The first store will open on London's Regent Street in late summer or early autumn this year, with additional launches following shortly after in Brussels, Copenhagen and Munich - cosmopolitan European cities perfectly targeted to millennials enjoying a long weekend away.


Aside from the staging, it's the product itself that's so intriguing - priced slightly higher than H&M's core offer (men's shirts start at €39 up to €115), the brand DNA is "timeless, crisp, quality and warmth," according to Bernhardtz. Crucially, she defines timeless as "style beyond trend" and quality as "not only the feel of garments; it's also how they are produced", suggesting that ethical and/or sustainable production might be a core part of Arket's marketing strategy in order to set itself apart from competitors. 

 "What we clearly saw was a broad customer base out there who are looking for classic, quality products in an environment that should be both simple and inspiring"
Lars Axelsson, Managing Director, Arket

By focusing on "classic, quality products", Bernhardtz and Axelsson may well be hoping to cash in on the success of startups such as Zady and Everlane, which are disrupting traditional fashion retail by focusing on simple, well-made basics, produced transparently - a key concern of millennial shoppers, who are part of the most globally connected and aware generation yet. This has certainly paid off for Everlane, which was rumoured to be valued at $250M off the back of $51M in sales in 2016, and has since added multiple new product lines to its range and further shipping destinations. 

Everlane's timeless basics


It remains to be seen how exactly Arket will position itself as a brand, but ultimately the stark reality is that this new venture is more about diversifying the H&M Group's portfolio in an increasingly competitive market and keeping pace with global retail leader Inditex (which reported profits of €3.16 billion for 2016), rather than a shift away from the fast fashion system. Continued pressure from campaigns such as Fashion Revolution, various government initiatives and the recently launched Fashion for Good (supported by the C&A Foundation) suggest that brands are starting to switch on to the importance of doing fashion better, but engaging this new generation of shoppers in more "conscious consumerism" is just as crucial as the face of retail begins to be redefined.

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