Recently, H&M opened its & Other Stories, the first in the Middle East, at The Dubai Mall. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai

For fashion retailer H&M, there are more ways to global dominance than planting its own flag across as many storefronts as possible. While it still does that, the Sweden-headquartered Group also finds the time and the space to develop other standalone brands.

One of them — & Other Stories — has just had its first Middle East store open, at The Dubai Mall, and a second to follow in Doha. It is being done through a franchise agreement with Kuwait’s M.H. Alshaya Group. (Alshaya also operates the H&M franchise in this territory.)

But Samuel Fernstrom, Managing Director of & Other Stories, is not one to dwell heavily on the H&M connection. “Apart from the legal, logistics and accounting, there are no links,” said Fernstrom. “It made so much sense to go our own way, whether it be sourcing, the designs and creating our own identity.

“These days it’s best to be seen as a brand that’s got its own individuality.”

The first steps by & Other Stories — which Fernstrom says is a slightly upmarket brand for women who love fashion and across age levels — saw its first store open on Regent Street, London, in 2013, and then across all of the major cities in Europe. In the last 18 months, it has built a US presence, through a handful of locations. (These are all directly owned.)

With two key territories in place, the US and Europe, it then made perfect sense to head for the Middle East. The managing director hasn’t taken a call on when the brand should pursue other Asian markets.

And it’s quite a hands-on approach that the brand has taken with its entire approach to design and assorted needs. It operates three design centres — in Paris, Stockholm and Los Angeles — where all of the intensive detailing gets done, from campaigns to store design. “Everything is done in-house and on par with what happens at a high-end brand,” said Fernstrom. “In that regard, we operate more holistically from some of our competitors.”

But wouldn’t it have been better to focus on a certain, more narrowly focused buyer demographic than a 15-60 year target group? Clearly, the managing director doesn’t see it quite that way. “For me, the target is quite clear — the brand should appeal to any woman who loves fashion. When that’s the case, I don’t think age comes into the picture.”

These are exceptional times for clothing retailers. While the likes of H&M — which just recently added another upscale label called “Arket” — and Spain’s Zara have had some stellar years, other “fast-fashion” labels have had a rough time of it, with some American brands even caught up in bankruptcy proceedings.

Do these trends require & Other Stories to proceed with caution? “I don’t see facing any kind of problem on the growth side,” said Fernstrom. “The “see now, buy now” trend in fashion is very much there. I don’t think our shoppers want to wait months for a new trend on the catwalks to show up in the stores. That it should be available from Day 1 makes perfect sense, ”