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Exclusive: H&M’s Carlos Duarte on the launch of its largest UK store

“If you can make it in the UK, you can make it anywhere,” says Carlos Duarte, UK and Ireland country manager of H&M, as the Swedish fast fashion giant prepares to open its largest UK store at Westfield Stratford later today.

The retailer opened a 42,180 sq ft store at the east London shopping centre in 2011 and has now relocated to a 63,670 sq ft unit, which was occupied by US fast fashion retailer Forever 21 until May last year.

The new store offers womenswear, menswear, its Divided range and kidswear across three floors, alongside the latest beauty and home ranges. It has a greater focus on menswear and home than seen in previous stores.

“As one of the busiest shopping centres in the world, Westfield Stratford is a very important location for us,” Duarte tells Drapers, explaining that the company decided to upsize as the original store had performed “extremely well”.

He says the UK high street is unlike any other in the world, in that the competition is fierce and the expectation is very high.

“For that reason the UK is and will remain a key market for H&M,” he underlines, arguing that the retailer caters well to the UK consumer because it offers something for everyone.

H&M opened its first store in the UK in 1976 and now has a portfolio that spans more than 260 stores in the UK and Ireland, under Duarte’s stewardship.

He says UK shoppers are more decisive than their counterparts on the continent: “They are very well informed about the latest trends but they also have their own personal style.”

Echoing the strategy of rivals such as New Look, Duarte believes menswear offers strong potential for further growth.

“Menswear has grown tremendously in the last five years and we want our customers to know that it is not an afterthought, it is front of mind,” he explains.

The men’s concept area at the new Westfield Stratford store features its own dedicated main entrance and cash desk, and the area stocks the full range covering sports, trend, suiting and accessories.

“Home is another key concept for us,” says Duarte. “We have a whole new shopping experience and look for home, which will give the customer a real taste of where we are going as a brand. We will be opening standalone home stores in 2018 and we see this as a great opportunity for the UK.”

The new store features H&M’s latest flagship fit out, which can only currently be found in the UK at Westfield London and features the new home interior programme, as well as iPads for customer ordering and the full beauty range. Click-and-collect will be introduced from summer.

However, Duarte says the design is specific to the location: “You will find similar concepts in our global flagship stores in New York’s Times Square and in Milan but the design of Westfield Stratford is very much unique to this store.”

H&M paid particular attention to the flow of customers around the store due to its size, adding a staircase as well as lifts and escalators.

To celebrate the launch of the store, H&M is featuring live performances from urban dance crew Plague and The Beatbox later today, as well as offering free manicures, a braid bar and a monogramming store for bespoke garment personalisation.

“At H&M, the customer is always our focus and providing the customer with the best possible shopping experience is key,” he says. “Upsizing has allowed us to add even more amazing fashion and deliver a true flagship experience to our loyal customers.”



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