Can a man really think like a woman?
This was Erling Persson’s goal whilst on his roadtrip around America, in the year 1946. Persson had a vision of selling high quality ladies wear at an affordable price. One year later, he opened his first store, branded ‘Hennes’ in Västerås, Sweden. The concept was an instant hit with the costumers, and he started making profit. A few years past, and he managed to open stores across Sweden. Of the profit he made, he acquired a hunting apparel and fishing equipment store, called Mauritz Widforss in 1968. Simultaneously, Hennes went from being a women’s wear only store to become a store for the whole family, through product expansion. Hennes was then rebranded to Hennes & Mauritz. In 1969, Hennes & Mauritz made its first international expansion starting in Norway, followed by Denmark, U.K., and Switzerland. To attract more costumers or to ‘expand the basket’, for their loyal costumers, Hennes & Mauritz went into product diversification by launching its first cosmetic line, starring an up and coming Swedish band called ABBA. Hennes & Mauritz was abbreviated into H&M, making it simpler for the costumers, in 1974. In the same year, H&M was listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange list for the first time. In 1980, H&M wanted to open a new sales channel for their customers, by introducing mail order-shopping. A channel diversification to the mail order was the online shopping, introduced in 1998 as Sweden’s first online market. The 53 first years, H&M focused only on Europe. The country then decided to take it a step further by going global, starting with the USA in 2000. Asia followed seven years later, opening stores in Hong Kong and Shanghai. To expand the sales even further, they saw the need to enter an develop a new category. In 2009, the Home collection was first introduced.
Throughout the years, H&M has received a lot of criticism for their poor ethical and environmental standards. A radical change was made in 2013, when H&M wanted to become a good corporate citizen through the creation of The H&M Foundation; a foundation privately funded by the Stefan Persson family. During the first three years, the family has donated 1 million USD per week to the H&M Foundation. The main purpose of this foundation is to invest in people, communities and new innovative ideas. The four core areas of focus are: education, clean water, strengthening women, and protecting the planet. This is only one part of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and sustainability strategy. One of the first initiatives was the ‘Reuse and Recycle’ of textiles, where the customers brought back 34,000 tons of old clothes/textiles. In order to reduce the use of virgin materials in the production of their new clothes collections. Going green is a good initiative in itself, but it can also be very profitable. In the following two years, H&M switched mainly to renewable energy in all stores, offices and markets. In the same year, they went from a pure linear industry to a circular fashion industry; with the intentions of building an industry where nothing is put to waste.
The Rana Plaza factory located in Dhaka, Bangladesh burned down in 2013, killing 1,138 of its workers. It is known as one of the worst garment factory disasters in history. This caused a huge scandal with H&M, as they had hired multiple workers at the Rana Plaza factory. H&M was however, the first and the largest fashion industry to sign the 2013 contract on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This agreement would ensure that all 1,600 factories were fire-proofed. As of May 2016, only seven have managed to completely ensure full safety in the factory, and another 57 are on the right track. The remaining factories are either behind schedule, the correction plan has not been finalized, or no implements have been made. H&M has a strict 12 hour overtime weekly limit rule in their rented factories. According to interviews done by the Wage Alliance, there are still 78,842 workers still creating clothes for H&M, due to the failed contract; many of them also work nine to 17 hours daily, going way over H&M’s limit. H&M has been trying to improve greatly after the 2013 disaster, through their H&M conscious collections; aiming at world friendly standards, and their ‘Reuse and Recycle’ initiative. H&M has good intentions, but they are still a privately-owned company with a single purpose of maximizing profit. In the profit equation, you can either increase revenue or decrease cost. The disaster in Bangladesh is a consequence of harshly cutting cost, to fulfill the vision of selling clothes as cheap as possible.
To answer the question, can a man really think like a woman? I would have to say, it is very much possible. Erling Persson has managed to create one of the largest and globally known companies in the world, originally only for women. Originally women’s fashion was all about the right fashion, whereas today, it is all about fashion in the right way.