H&M Is Taking Over the World

Usually Kathleen writes these types of articles, but lately I’ve felt like doing a little commentary myself. As many of you know, H&M first landed on the east coast a few years ago with many store openings and last fall, they opened their first series of west coast stores. Coincidentally, at the time they were starting their west coast stores, I was using the same fulfillment center that had been hired to handle their west coast distribution.

I never visited the two stores they opened in downtown San Francisco, because I know H&M can be a madhouse, and a madhouse in downtown San Francisco is neither easy to get to nor pleasant to shop at. To my amusement, H&M opened a store in the shopping district of upscale Walnut Creek, right next to one of my favorite lunch spots, Il Fornaio.

I was crazy enough to venture into the store, not realizing it was opening weekend. Broadway Plaza (where this H&M is located) is home to many upscale independent boutiques (including the one shoe store I curiously wandered into not realizing it was Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik central and thus, out of my price range), Nordstrom, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Tiffany. There is no Old Navy here.

It had been a year since I ventured into an H&M store and I’m reminded why there is a 15 minute wait for a dressing room, even though they have over 15 of them. Love it or hate it, H&M gets a lot of things right that the GAP has gotten incredibly wrong over the years.


If H&M ever decides to take their US expansion full steam ahead, the GAP is in big trouble. The price points compete with Old Navy, but the style is something that the GAP just could never get right (according to both industry analysts and my friends who have given up on the retailer after years of disappointment). Kathleen is a huge fan of Zara’s business model (and I am too), but Zara is too stylish to have the mainstream potential that H&M has. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a recognition that the business models are different.

There are many people who love Target (or Tar’ jhay as some would call it). And while they have reinvented themselves with designer partnerships and their incredible ability to convince established brands to license or develop products just for them, there still is a certain cheapness to Target that some women cannot embrace.

So here I am, standing in a store in a high income, high cost of living, relatively upscale shopping area, watching women wearing $200 jeans, and carrying Nordstrom shopping bags, buy a par if $30 jeans from H&M, with a wink and a nod understanding that they have reached a customer that the GAP can’t touch.

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14 comments

  1. Wande says:

    I totally agree with you Miracle. I discovered H&M and Zara in London and was thrilled to find out they had stores in the US. I hope they make it to Atlanta soon. I personally don’t like the GAP, won’t shop there but will happily shop at Target and Nordstrom on the same day.

  2. Judith says:

    When I lived in Scotland I went into H&M and had a look around. I did not care for their stuff. I felt it looked cheap. I never went back to an H&M . I do like Zara tho. I like Target for house hold stuff. I dont care for the clothing. I did have a look at the Tara Jarmon clothing it was poorly sewn. I have looked at Tara’s clothing before in Paris. She had some very nice clothing at a fabby dept store. The clothing was quite expensive, well on my budget it is. I liked Gap in the mid 80’s. I don’t hardly go in there anymore. Once in a blue moon. I do shop at Nordstom’s from time to time. They also have went through their phase with me too. I felt they carried crap for about 3 yrs and I did not shop there for that length of time. I later found out during that time the family was not running Nordstorm’s. Nordstorm’s hired a company to run them for a few years. They saw they were loosing money and went back to the family running it.

  3. Sarah says:

    Very inteesting, Miracle. I discovered H&M and Zara for the first time, about 2 years ago, when we moved here to Germany. Both stores, especially H&M, are always packed with people when I’ve been in.

  4. Last month I was in San Francisco for a business trip an happened to be staying around the corner from H&M and Zara. Having read about both stores on this website I decided to take look. I must say that out of the two, I prefer Zara. The designs, quality of the fabrics and workmanship were some of the best I have seen. I expected the clothing to be priced at least 300-400% more than they were. On the other hand, I expected more form H&M. They had very cute trendy designs but I’ll give you at least two washings before the garments fall apart. This is the exact problem I have with Target’s clothing selections for women. I’d rather save up $15 more dollars and walk down the street to Zara’s. BTW – if you haven’t taken a look at Zara’s menswear…do so!!! It is to die for!!!!!! On another note…I also went to Saks and checked out a white cotton shirt by Dolce & Gabanna for about $1200 which was made of cheap cotton and poorly made. I couldn’t believe it!!!!

  5. La BellaDonna says:

    Unfortunately for me, I love the Zara designs. Not unfortunate in terms of wallet, although it could have been devastating; in terms of fit. Their fit model seems to be closer to a junior figure, and unfortunately, I’ve seldom been close to a junior figure (well, sometimes I stand next to one. It happens.) They may designate sizes as if they were misses’ sizes, but the fit doesn’t correspond; it didn’t matter if I went up or down in sizes, the proportions were just not the same as mine. I’ve found the same to be true at Arden B and, often, at H&M

    I was stunned to read recently (here? Did I read it here?) that the majority of women nowadays have a bust/waist/hip differential of 8″ or less. I am going to be completely doomed, in terms of off-the-rack shopping, if manufacturers all start sizing clothes based on that premise. I thought that the majority of women were hourglass-shaped, but it appears that the sand has shifted.

  6. Erica says:

    I was in Amsterdam 5 years ago when I first shopped in an H&M and I’ve been addicted every since. I actually fly up to NYC just to shop there…mostly for my children. I adore their toddler wear. It’s just a matter of time for them to open up a store here in Atlanta- it’s a great market for the styles and prices. I will feel sorry though for all the stores here that are already struggling. It’s tough to compete with these companies that have such high volume that they can keep their prices so low.

  7. Kysha says:

    I was first introduced to H&M on a trip to NY (I havnt liked anything in the SF store)
    and went crazy in there, I had just lost some weight after having my baby and wanted to buy something trendy & cute but inexpensive. I got a bunch of things and I must say I hardly ever wear them now. The fit is def not for my body and although the clothes don’t tear up in the wash they don’t look great anymore either.

    Zara on the other hand, has wonderful style that is more classic & stylish than just trendy and the clothes do well in the wash. I just wish the sizing wasn’t so uuuumm, slender? I’m curvy and I find myself almost sized out of their bottoms.

    I’ve never seen H&M’s kids stuff but Zara’s is to die for!! The girls shoes are incredible and the clothing is top quality!

  8. La BellaDonna says:

    Kysha, when you say that the H&M sizing is “slender” and that you’re “curvy and I find myself almost sized out of their bottoms”, is it that the sizes aren’t large enough for you (that is, they go up only to a 14, and you need a 16 or 18, or do you have the same complaint I have, that they are sized for a bust/waist/hip differential of 8″ or less?

    Actually, if anyone has run into a manufacturer or designer whose fit favours an hourglass shape, I’d appreciate hearing about it.

  9. Alisa Benay says:

    ARE there manufacturers that produce for hourglass figures? I have a difference of 16 inches from my waist to my hips. I always have to buy pants to fit my hips, take them home and completely deconstruct and reconstruct them.

  10. Heather Knight says:

    Most girls today aren’t very hourglass shaped. Is it the hormones in the food, bad posture, what? Even now, at the fattest I have ever been, I still have a 12.5″ differance betwwn my waist and hips. I also have a 6.5″ drop form my bust to my hips. I make nearly all my own clothes, as it’s hard to find quality.
    The worse offenders for quality are in the bridal industry. I am planning a wedding, and will make everything but the crinoline for my jr. bridesmaid and a top for Mob and Mog.

  11. Andy Chang says:

    Being an ex-manufacturer of H&M, I have to say, although they claim to have a high quality standard and testing regiment are. The price point which they are demanding will inevitably cause a serious fall out down the line. Their price point is close to that of Costco and Walmart, which if anyone whose ever visited these store would know, although they maybe the cheapest, it is definitely not quality goods. Which is a reason why I no longer accept H&M orders. (Mainly because I didn’t want to compromise on the quality of goods I produce.)

    If you look carefully at both H&M and Zara, the length of their pants if you pull 4 of the same size, the length can vary from 1 inch to 2 inches. Even when you compare the left and right leg, you will notice that sometimes they have different length.

    If you look even closer, you will notice that they have skipped needles on chain stitiches along the side seam and waistbands. Areas where requiring double and triple needles, they don’t have even width, meaning it was done by single needle and not by double or triple needle machines.

    All these issues are due to customer’s ever increasing need to have lower cost. When cost are lowered, amount of people doing QC, in-line auditors are compromised because these are over head cost that have to be spread over all the products. Some may argue that quality should not be viewed as a cost, according to lean manufacturing it actually increase productivity, which is true, but it still adds to cost and is a fixed cost in product. When a customer wants cost lower than the factory’s fixed cost, factory will have to find ways to lower these cost… but I digressed

    Having said that, I do admire their ability to copy and their speed of decision making. They can descide on style and make bulk within 10 days where other customers require 2 months.

    To conclude, I think their development model is worth noticing and their success is attributed to this model. However, the price point which they manufacture their goods will eventually cost them. They will find that the dye used in their goods are substandards. The material used may carry certain chemicals that may cause allergic reaction. These are cost that will offset the savings which they initially achieved through low cost manufacturing. They may find that the workmanship of their goods are not as nice as the ones found in Nordstrom.

    Zara and H&M from the first look is great, but the product can not withstand a closer look.

  12. Rosemary says:

    I absolutely love the style and cost at Zara, but the fit is a problem. I stick to buying dresses, tops and jackets from them and invest in more expensive bottoms.I find Dana Buchman, DKNY, and Ralph Lauren are sized for a curvier figure. You can make a very trendy impression with the top half. The problem with the disappearing waists on young women was caused by years of low rise jeans- no pressure near the waist and is has just spread!

  13. Tammy says:

    I love both of them too. I agree with Rosemary that the low rise thing is awful. After puberty most women need to just stop wearing them. Muffin top is now an epidemic. Ladies with long waists and short legs appear to have even longer waists and much shorter legs, almost odd looking.

    A past client of mine asked me to design a “real” poodle skirt for a masquerade party she was to attend. I did so. It was made the way they did it in the 50’s, just as she asked. As she was trying the muslin on, she complained that it didn’t fit. She said I needed to check my measurements, she couldn’t believe how far off I was, how could I call myself a designer.
    And it’s too long! It’s too long! Mortified, I went in the dressing room only to see her wrestling with the zipper… with the waistband just above her hip bone! HONESTLY!

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