Unless you've been hiding out under a clearance pile of bedazzled Uggs, you've no doubt heard the latest fashion news to rock New Orleans: a 32,000-square-foot H&M will open in the French Quarter's old Hard Rock Cafe building. While the overwhelming response from local fashionistas is a breathless "FINALLY!!!", H&M came under fire from NPR last week for being a purveyor of "fast fashion" — cheap clothing manufactured under less-than-ideal conditions that's worn a few times and discarded. Here, H&M spokesperson Nicole Christie shares some information about the Swedish chain's plans for New Orleans and its initiatives toward sustainability.
First, it's really exciting to hear that people want us to come to their city. For us, it's all about the factors being in place to open the best store possible. The best location is our priority. We'd rather wait than open a store in a less-than-ideal location. Second is our customer base. Market conditions have to be ideal for us to open there. We know there's a strong customer base in New Orleans, because there's been such a demand and the retail conditions are quite strong.
What will the H&M store carry?
Our priority is to have all the concepts for men's, women's, children's, our Young Trends collection, our Divided collection, lingerie, accessories and our maternity line. We won't have home at this store.
Edit 3/27/13: There will be a home collection at the store. Nicole Christie writes in an email, "We are currently planning to have (a home collection) there but we were not confirming it yet publicly at the time of the announcement."
When is the store scheduled to open?
I'm anticipating late fall 2013.
What steps is H&M taking to tailor this location to the New Orleans market?
Our goal is to keep the local market in mind when we open stores. Everything from the buildout — how we bring out the charm and character of the building and location itself, which is fairly historic — to how we can tailor the collections to suit the market. It's a full strategy focusing on the New Orleans market, but bringing the H&M design, quality and value we're known for.
H&M has been described as a "fast fashion" retailer, selling clothing that's practically disposable. What efforts is H&M making toward sustainability in its products and manufacturing techniques?
We have an extremely expansive sustainability strategy called our Conscious Strategy. We've been releasing a CSR (Conscious Actions Sustainability Report) report for the last 10 years. It details everything we do, from environmental work to community investments, from where we produce garments to saving water when we do production and using more sustainable materials like organic cotton and recycled products. One of our biggest achievements is starting a global recycling program in all our stores. We want to affect the amount of garments that end up in landfills, so we encourage customers to bring in any unwanted garments, which we recycle along with our partner I:Collect. We're the first global fashion retailer to implement this on this level. Tomorrow is the launch of our Conscious Collection, which is a fashion collection made of recycled materials, organic cotton and other sustainable materials.
Does this mean the prices are going up, or will H&M garments still be pretty affordable?
We want fashion to be accessible. We always say we offer fashion and quality at the best price. We have over 150 designers in Sweden who design everything from baby socks to our trendiest women's items. We won't always be the cheapest, but certain things — great design, quality materials — won't be compromised. Value for money is why we're doing so well and able to expand so much. We're doing a very good job maintaining the affordable price levels.