In an age where sustainability in fashion and provenance in food is starting to define how we choose to consume products, it’s refreshing to see a company building longevity and durability into a brand concept from the ground up.
Arket is a new retail brand from Swedish fashion giant H&M, but it is about as far away from ‘fast-fashion’ as it’s possible to be. ‘We are building a modern day market, where everything the consumer needs is under one roof,’ says managing director Lars Axelsson. ‘With Arket, what we want to deliver is an everyday uniform of curated essentials – everything should be easy to pick out and easy to work with. In time, it will become an archive wardrobe.’
Launching this week with flagship stores in London and then Copenhagen, as well as e-commerce operations in 18 European markets, Arket sells clothes for women, men and kids mixed with iconic ‘best in class’ brands as well as accessories and tableware for the home.
The classics-focused fashion ranges are well-considered and champion pieces that customers will always want to keep in their wardrobe: a trench coat or well-cut white shirt, a cashmere knit or sports blazer. The mood is gentlewomanly elegance with stylish design details. The women’s range is peppered with print pieces such as a floral dress based on an original artwork from the archive of Francois Ducharne’s silk firm and drawing studio, active between 1920-1960 in France. Menswear is more utilitarian and features khaki and navy outerwear, performance fabrics and functional waxed cotton or canvas jackets. (But there’s no reason why women can’t wear them too.)
Arket pieces are designed to be long-lasting, and updated over time through modern design details, quality fabrics and ‘a tonality that pulls everything together with warmth’, says creative director, Ulrika Bernhardtz.
Kidswear is especially charming with cute knits and colourful sweats – an organic cotton knit Breton stripe dress or fox ears cardigan spring to mind – and it’s designed to be worn, played in and then handed down when outgrown. The functionality of the kidswear collection is currently being promoted on Arket’s Instagram account via a quirky illustration gif, Egon the egghead, who demonstrates garments’ specific functions and attributes such as, wicking, durability and taped seams.
Arket’s wardrobe staples are merchandised alongside brands such as Converse or Veja that serve to echo the brand sensibility of ‘modern classics’. ‘We really believe it’s relevant to a modern customer to bring different brands together — under one roof, under one channel — and to make that choice for them and also make it more convenient, says Bernhardtz.
Through its numerous brand launches over the last few years, H&M has become a kind of retail arbiter of style. From Weekday and Monki to & Other Stories and COS, it has successfully held a lens up to the latest consumer (fashion) trends and translated them into retail concepts that not only capture a moment, but also an attitude towards style. And now that has been extended to homeware and food too.
Via Arket, it feels like H&M is shifting that barometer further. It is projecting a type of philanthropy, an informed choice architecture where quality, functionality, longevity and what Axelsson calls ‘archive essentials’ are all watchwords for luxury at a mass market level. Arket’s prices are at the premium end of high-street, with shirts ranging from £25 up to £119 and outerwear pieces reaching £399.
While there is little in the way of digital innovation in store, mobile discovery is key to the way Arket customers can purchase products in-store and online. I really like the subtle way the brand has slowly unveiled its look book campaign images simultaneously via Instagram and online inviting early adopters to sign up for a promotional shopping rate.
‘There is a tiered code system for each product category, which is designed to be simple, functional and helpful,’ says Axelsson. ‘We designed the product code system to allow customers to follow the journey of a garment – from the first time they probably find one of our pieces online and bring an image of it on their mobile into store, to five years later, when they want to buy the same product and they can see how it has evolved. To help the customer save time is our role.’ In line with the mantra that the store is a place to re-charge, Axelsson adds that the product merchandising is sparse. ‘If you want to be in a store today you need to breathe out not breathe in. Leaving space on the store floor is important.’
There is a central café as part of the Arket retail concept and it’s designed to create an experience, according to Alexsson. ‘In the physical retail environment of today, you need an experience, and food & beverage is very connected to an experience. This is a place to re-charge. Whether that’s your mind, your laptop, your wife, your kids, yourself – all of these benefit from a pause,’ he says.
The Arket café menu is based on the principles of the New Nordic Food Manifesto, an initiative created in 2003 by a group of chefs to help promote the sustainability of local food and local production techniques in the region. The vegetarian menu reflects the freshness of food found in the Nordics blended with more localised, seasonal influences indicative of the markets where Arket operates. Highlights from the launch event menu include: springy rye bread and avocado/radish open top sandwiches, sunset coloured beetroot salad and delicious oatmeal redcurrant cookies.
‘We wanted to democratise that quality and luxury approach to Nordic food. Seasonal and healthy food should be for everyone,’ head of café concept Martin Berg explained at the launch event. ‘Some Nordic food preparation techniques were hijacked by fine-dining restaurants and it had become somewhat elitist,’ he says. So instead, Arket celebrates the New Nordic Food Manifesto with updated recipes in the café and aims to educate consumers about the benefits of eating this way, and how it impacts the entire food supply chain.
Retail Planner takeouts:
Arket feels like a breath of fresh air in the toxic world of fast fashion. With its family focused credentials and sustainability minded brand DNA, Arket is filling a growing gap in the market for thoughtful wardrobe essentials and a total 360 degree approach to provenance-based lifestyle choices. Isn’t it time other vertical retail operators changed their ethos to become more archive building instead of throw away?