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How H&M got glocal in Asia

‘Glocalisation’ is a trend retail chains have been embracing for more than a decade. It’s the art of fostering a local appeal to a globalised retail offer, empowering regional decision making in the hope of creating a bond with people in communities of consumers a world away from the company’s head office, but continuing to enjoy the advantages of critical mass in production, logistics and other back-of-house operations. 

But the fashion industry, trapped in the pressure cooker of seasonality-driven product design and release, has been slow to respond on a global scale. While luxury brands have always found an insatiable audience of consumers in markets like China, where wearing a brand is a sign of status and success, some mainstream global fashion brands have foundered abroad. Gap failed in Australia, Victoria’s Secret had mixed success after discovering its styles, fits and sizes weren’t really a natural match for typically petite Asian physiques. River Island and Banana Republic never took off in Singapore, Marks & Spencer quit Mainland China – and labels like Forever 21 and Macy’s struggled to make any headway on the mainland. 

And that’s before you consider some of the public-relations disasters in recent years by brands large and small who were tone deaf to cultural differences and regional geopolitical tinder points (think Versace, Coach and Givenchy, who learned the hard way not to project Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as territories separate from China…)

Given that context, H&M has begun to stand out from its peers by steadily building affinities with local personalities, influencers and designers – and most recently models. Not just in China, but regionally, one of the few continents where the company is aggressively expanding its store networks as growth wanes in Europe and North America. 

The move has been subtle and undertaken without fanfare, but it gained momentum last year when the company appointed musician and artist Lay Zhang Yixing as its spokesperson for its menswear collection in Greater China.

Most recently, the company assembled a group of models from around Asia for a photoshoot for its up-scale H&M Studio Spring Summer 2020 collection, choosing women well known in their home markets. While H&M has long embraced diversity in the talent modelling its new lines, this was something quite unique for the label. 


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