Yesterday, the day finally came that H & M, the Swedish-based, fashion-at-a-price, retailer opened its first Houston area store and the crowds were enthusiastically waiting, chanting and cheering for them to get the doors open. When we arrived for the Press Preview at 9:00 a.m. over 400 were lined up, and close to their noon opening time, this line stretched all around the inside of the mall….they were ready and based on our take on the product offerings we feasted on, shoppers will not be disappointed.
The 20,000 sq. ft. store, the 238th for the U.S. and an addition to their 2500 globally, was chocked full of great merchandise, some at unbelievable prices, particularly their “Opening Offers” items that touched on every trend and category for the coming summer months.
I loved to have some one-on-one time with Nicole Christie, H & M’s spokesperson and most recent representative on TV reality show, Fashion Star, which I watched faithfully each week. The place was so a-buzz that she and I sought out the refuge of a quiet small fitting room to sit and chat for a quick interview. Here are some of the highlights that she shared with me on H & M and its Houston opening.
RP: Why did it take so long to get to Texas?
NC: Simply it was all about finding the right locations. We know the key cities in the country and want to be in all of those that we should be in. That is how we have built over 200 stores in 12 years (entered U.S. in 2000) and would have never just waited to come to Houston, but we will not make a move unless we get the best locations available. We love Baybrook Mall because of who the anchor stores are, the amount of foot traffic they get and amount of business that they do. We also feel that we will draw people here that have not been coming here before because we’re here (that’s we, inner-city folks!).
RP: Jealously speaking, is there a chance you might open a location closer in the city, like The Galleria maybe?
NC: Our real estate people are always looking and of course we are very aware of a mall as important as The Galleria, but it’s all about timing, location and location within the mall….all very specific and important to us.
RP: If there is anyone, which I doubt, who is reading my blog that is unfamiliar with H & M, could you tell us what you believe your company wants to stand for?
NC: Wow, I’m always shocked to find someone that may not know about us?! (ha!) We focus on offering the best fashion and quality at the best price. By doing everything in-house, we can be very focused on design but also on quality and sustainability.
RP: Does H & M want to stand for sustainability?
NC: Absolutely, H & M is the #1 user of organic cotton in the world and plan on doing much more. We are also working towards improving the growing of conventional cotton. Everyone is moving towards organic and there is just not enough supply in the world. We want people to know that we are leaders in working on making “normal cotton” processing more sustainable for all. In our stores you can identify these sustainable garments by looking for the green hang tag that says “CONSCIOUS” on the tag.
RP: How do you keep your prices so low? Do you have different buyers in different countries, different suppliers?
NC: Everything is directed and all buying is out of Stockholm but we have Production Directors in every country that we produce products, which is literally, all over the world. We have a very strict code of conduct for our suppliers that includes everything from hours, wages, child labor and of course quality of all of this. We design in-house and make them wherever we can get it produced the least expensively and best quality for the price in the massive quantities that we produce. We offer the BEST PRICE, not always the cheapest price for what we offer…..you do see $4.95 swimsuits but also $59.99 prom dresses, where else can you find that?
RP: Talk to me about your next designer collaborations that we will finally get to see and buy, who’s next and will they be in all stores?
NC: First of all, with few exceptions, all 238 U.S. stores pretty much have the same items. Our next collaboration, in September, that we are very excited about is the Accessories collection by Vogue’s Anna Dello Russo. Very glamorous, even if you are not familiar with her, you will love her accessories.
RP: Tell me about Opening Offers.
NR: We have fabulous buys in our Opening Offerings,(look for ceiling signs with arrows pointing down) for the weekend or as long as supplies last. They start at $5.00, and are spotted throughout the store in every department.
RP: Lastly, what trends have you gotten behind for summer?
NR: At top of fashion cycle, we showed neoprene and peplums early. On the commercial level, color is the biggest. Swimwear, we’ve gone after all of the trends there. Also, printed trousers, fancy pants that are now evolving into printed shorts. Dresses are always in trend for summer and of course, Accessories are plentiful and follow all of the current trends!
Nicole Christie will be back on Fashion Star next season and you can watch her make the buys for H & M on that show which she says will be taken up a notch for the coming season?
Now, some of the highlights of the store, its products, pricing and eagerly awaiting crowds and remember Willowbrook Mall opens this summer, we heard it will be in about a month!