H&M: With Love, from Sweden

The whitewashed walls of the stunning old building were lined with clothing and staff were battling to maintain order. Men and women of all ages madly scrambled through racks, shelves and stacks in search of the latest affordable trends. Clothes were flying in every direction quicker than staff could fold them, although bless them, they did try. “We re-stock daily” an enthusiastic retail assistant explained to a disheartened customer that obviously saw what someone else had and wanted it. She exited the shop with plans to return the following morning.

First it was kitset furniture (Ikea) and now it’s Fashion that the Swedish are sending to Australian shores. Maybe I should have gone to business school in Sweden. My first encounter with Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) was on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California. Shopping and travelling go hand in hand for me so I was pleased to encounter a store filled with affordable staples to stuff my suitcases with. I still have the shirt I brought, it’s lasted a good few years. Upon hearing that the brand was launching in Melbourne, my interest was piqued.

Roll out the marching band, H&M is here

Roll out the marching band, H&M Melbourne is here

My fellow countrymen and women will nip across the ditch to visit Melbourne for the sole purpose of shopping. It’s a big business. What Melbourne, and indeed Australia has that New Zealand doesn’t is a very large population (about 4.25 million, in fact). Combine this with a relatively buoyant economy and you’ll see why H&M decided to join global fashion giants including Forever 21 (Forever New in Australia) and Top Shop in the market down under.

You can whittle whole days away padding through clothing institutions happily in search of a mood-altering ensemble and when you find it, elate in the satisfaction of ‘retail therapy’. That doesn’t do it for me anymore, I want to get in, get what I came for and then get the hell out. After years of shopping my weekends away, I now shop like a man. That’s why I stared in wonderment when I saw the old Melbourne General Post Office transform into a H&M playground. Next came security guards, adding to the pomp and hysteria. Following that, there was a large clock counting down the days, hours, minutes and even seconds until the shop opened on Saturday, April 5.

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Waiting with anticipation

I have strolled past on my way to work each day to watch the drama that is H&M Melbourne unfurl before me. Queues formed on opening day and three weeks in they have hardly stopped. This alone was enough to put me off but on a quiet afternoon I couldn’t resist lining up and testing the crowd. Fortunately it was swift-moving and I was through the doors in about ten minutes.

Stunning GPO building, good choice H&M

Stunning GPO building, good choice H&M

Like many modern day consumers, I was concerned that this label would abuse it’s worldwide super powers (also known as economies of scale) to exploit those that transform raw materials into the retail products H&M are famous for. It was heartening to see that they have made a public effort to provide ethical clothing to customers. No doubt that was good for the marketing campaign, but it’s more than other companies are doing so we must encourage them.

There is a fear that international fashion houses like H&M will dilute the profitability of local retailers. Hopefully, there’s room for everyone. I sympathise with the agony of today’s teens that cannot simply rotate track pants, jeans and flare tights like I used to. Money is tight at that age and I’m sure H&M is answering their European-chique prayers at once.

As I reached what I believed to be the end of the store with a few items under my arm, I realised there was a back section plus an upstairs brimming with undiscovered bargains. The store was big enough that I freely admit that I in fact got lost. When I located the way out, I could happily exclaim that after three weeks of anticipation: I have been there, done that and I did in fact purchase a t-shirt.

H&M Melbourne opened 5 April 2014. It is the first store in Australia and is proving very popular for shoppers of all ages, for more information and access to online shopping, click here.

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