Sep 14, 2007
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H & M celebrates 60 years of low-cost fashion

Sep 14, 2007

STOCKHOLM, Sept 14, 2007 (AFP) - H & M, the Swedish low-cost clothing giant, celebrates its 60th birthday this weekend, with the group a leader in its industry and one of the strongest brands in youth fashion.

From humble beginnings in Vasteras, a small town in the west of Sweden, H & M has expanded continually since 1947 and now operates 1,400 stores in 28 countries.

H&M collection Divided fall-winter 2007/2008

The company is guided by a philosophy of producing fashionable cheaply-made clothing, but adapts its clothing lines to each country and ensures that stores are permanently restocked.

To strengthen its brand, which is a mixture of fashion and cheapness, the company collaborates with celebrities and famous luxury designers who do limited edition collections available at low prices.

Singers Kylie Minogue and Madonna and Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld have all worked with H & M and their collections have sold out in hours.

For Florence Muller, a professor at the French fashion institute, "H & M has gone from being a distributor to being a fashion label."

"H & M stores and those of its competitors have a much larger role than you might think," she said.

"They've become places for fashion followers where one goes to see confirmation of the trends for the season."

Last year, the group reported sales of 8.6 billion euros (11.9 billion dollars), putting it slightly ahead of its nearest rival in the clothing retail industry, Spanish group Zara.

In the fiercely competitive market for affordable clothing, the main competitors to H & M are Zara, the US group GAP and Spain's Mango.

"The principle remains the same: fashion and quality at the best price," explained company spokeswoman Kristina Stenvinkel.

"Today, 60 years on, H & M is a global company with one hundred fashion designers and worldwide celebrities queuing up to work with us."

On Saturday, the day of the anniversary, the company has no plans for a party and will instead donate 6.5 million euros to a charity working with people in the countries where it sources clothing.

The emergence of international low-cost fashion chains such as H & M is linked to shopping trends, according to Frederic Monneyron, a sociologist specialised in fashion at the University of Perpignon in France.

"The success of these brands is evidently down to their low prices. It's the main point, undoubtedly," he said.

This is because of a trend to spend less and less on clothing as a proportion of household income, he said.

In Europe, consumers spent 6.8 percent of income on clothing in 1995 compared with 5.8 percent in 2005, according to official statistics from the EU statistics body Eurostat.

by Delphine Touitou

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