Lars Axelsson tells Drapers how the new brand and its “everyday uniform” fits into the H&M family.
You cannot miss the monochrome hoardings of Arket’s yet-to-be opened store on Regent Street. Stark black letters on a crisp white background make a simple statement that echoes the brand’s fuss-free approach. Billed as an antidote to ever-faster fashion, it seeks to cut through a noisy high street with an “everyday uniform” of quality staples.
Arket is the latest concept from Swedish behemoth H&M Group. It will make its global debut in Banana Republic’s former 17,000 sq ft London flagship in early autumn, selling products for women, men, children and the home. The Covent Garden store on Long Acre will follow later this year, alongside openings in a host of European cities, including Copenhagen, Brussels and Munich.
We’re focusing on a long-lasting collection that could be an everyday uniform
Lars Axelsson, managing director, Arket
It joins what is already a crowded stable of brands – Cos, & Other Stories, Monki, Cheap Monday and Weekday are all part of the ever-expanding H&M family. With so many fascias jostling for space – there are two & Other Stories branches around Regent Street, as well as several H&M stores, and Weekday will also open there this summer – Arket could risk cannibalising customers from elsewhere in the H&M Group.
However, managing director Lars Axelsson is confident the offer will attract new consumers.
Arket on Regent Street
“Our mission is to deliver the best product for the best price. We are focused on a customer that we don’t see we have within the group today as much as we should,” he tells Drapers at the brand’s press launch at Kensington’s Royal Geographical Society, while dressed suitably on-brand in a black Arket suit and white trainers.
“We’re looking at this modern customer, who demands something a little bit different and has a little bit of a different lifestyle. H&M is big, but there’s a big retail world out there.”
He explains that the Arket team saw a gap in the market for good-quality product, designed to suit a customer struggling for time and left exhausted by today’s trend-hungry fashion. Axellson says Arket’s customers are currently shopping at department stores and higher-end brands.
“We’re focusing on a long-lasting collection that could be an everyday uniform. If I look at myself and what I wear every week and every day, it’s very connected to classic products. As you get older, you realise that quality matters and quality is product that you like, that saves you time. That’s something we believe in a lot, especially for this customer.”
As you get older, you realise that quality matters and quality is product that you like, that saves you time
Lars Axelsson, managing director, Arket
The impression is one of easy, Scandi-style, slick, wearable pieces that will doubtless appeal to its quality-focused target audience. Customers will not find the latest catwalk copies at Arket, but that is not what it sets out to do. It will be priced above H&M’s other brands, but Axelsson argues there will be something for everybody.
“We always said two things were very important: number one, that we wanted to strive to offer the best price for a product, but also that we had to have a broad price range. If you come to Arket looking for a men’s shirt, you can have a very nice Oxford shirt from €49 (£42), up to an Italian flannel for €89 (£77.)”
Women’s shirts will start at €39 (£34) and go up to €89 for silk. Knitwear will range from €49 (£42) for a lighter gauge Merino crew-neck to €135 (£117) for cashmere. Men’s T-shirts start at €15 (£13), and for both men and women, the top of the range is parkas at €290 (£252).
For women, Arket’s “everyday uniform” comprises oversized shirts with a masculine edge, chunky Breton-striped sweaters and tailored jackets. More seasonal pieces, such as a floral crepe de chine midi-dress and cream crocheted blouse, are mixed in. An oversized check peacoat catches the eye – like the rest of the collection it feels reassuringly well made.
It is a similar story in the men’s range, where striped jumpers and crisp shirts are also key. Pops of royal blue and green brighten the mostly neutral offer, and white T-shirts come in three different weights for easy layering. Nifty two-in-one jackets are available for both men and women. Inspired by the military, detachable liners in a variety of colours can be zipped into jackets, allowing customers to personalise the product or adapt it depending on the weather.
Arket will also stock third-party brands concentrating on its shoes, accessories and home department, including Adidas, Reebok and trainer brand Veja.
Axelsson chuckles “Why not?” when asked why the brand decided to launch in the UK, rather than in H&M’s native Scandinavia. More seriously, he adds that “few streets in the world” are as exciting as Regent Street, and he is also keen to stress Arket’s digital credentials. On the same day that the Regent Street store opens (the exact date is still under wraps), the brand will launch online in 18 markets.
We want a place where you can find everything under one roof
Lars Axelsson, managing director, Arket
“It’s important to address that, yes, we open on Regent Street, but on the same day we’ll be in 18 markets digitally, meaning we will be reaching roughly 220 million people. Nobody usually launches in 18 markets.
“The customers are very digital and they demand this. It’s very demanding to open up 20 physical stores in one go – I’ve done it, I’ve been with H&M for 11 years – but if we have the opportunity to be as digital as we can be, we should take it.”
The UK’s interest in all things Scandi shows no sign of fading away: see last winter’s Scandi lifestyle buzzword “hygge” – denoting a feeling or moment of cosiness and well-being – and the devoted following of Danish womenswear brand Ganni. Arket’s customers will be able to buy into the Nordic lifestyle still further through the brand’s in-store cafes, which will offer healthy, seasonal food that is focused on freshness.
The cafes will also give customers another reason to visit stores, Axelsson argues: “When you have people sitting at home shopping online, you need to deliver something else. We needed to put something more in the physical environment. We want a place where you can find everything under one roof – you don’t need to go anywhere else.”
Five minutes with Ulrika Bernhardtz, Arket’s creative director
How would you describe Arket?
Arket is a new brand, building a modern-day market that will offer essential products for men, women, children and the home. The [H&M?] archive is the starting point for the collection, a solid foundation of the products you want to find again and again, combined with room for play season to season through materials, colours and proportions. We have dug deep into our respective archives to make a family of products that strive to be perfect versions of themselves.
What gap does Arket fill on the high street?
The mission is to democratise quality through long-lasting, well-made products that will be accessible to a broad customer group. We want to offer our customers products that can be used and loved for a long time.
How does it differ from H&M’s other brands?
Arket will offer products that are different from, and will ultimately complement, H&M Group’s current offering [see box below]. Of course, Arket will include a cafe concept, which is a notable difference.
How have you created higher-quality products?
Our starting point for every product is knowing the quality we want, and then achieving value for money by economies of scale, yarn projects, and, most of all, styles that we plan to stick with for a long time, translating to larger quantities, fewer changes, lower development costs (for those producing them), and the possibility to refine over time.
How Arket fits into the H&M family
The original and the biggest, H&M has been in the UK since 1976 and now has 3,962 stores worldwide.
Cos arrived on UK shores in 2007 and has made a name for itself with its sophisticated, minimal look.
Bright prints and colours give Monki product a youthful, fun feel. It opened a UK store on London’s Carnaby Street in 2012, and one in Bristol last November.
& Other Stories
H&M’s premium older sister puts its own spin on trend-led, feminine pieces. Since arriving on London’s Regent Street in 2013, it has opened stores across the capital and in Leeds.
This brand started life as a denim label and has since expanded into wider fashion collections. It made its UK debut through a Selfridges concession in 2011 and opened a standalone Carnaby Street store in 2012.
Weekday will open its first UK store selling its androgynous Scandi-cool collection later this year, also on Regent Street.
The newest member of the H&M Group focuses on quality wardrobe staples and a unique in-store experience. It will open its debut global store in early autumn.
Arket MD introduces H&M Group's newest arrival