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The Faces Behind H&M
Meet the people behind the Swedish clothing giant.
By Guan Tan
/19 September 2017
Submitting an interview request to the H&M Swedish headquarters is no easy feat. From its Stockholm nerve centre, the 70-year-old clothing giant manages all its arms in 62 countries. When it's afternoon in Stockholm, it's night time in Singapore. Any correspondence requires a day's worth of patience. Likewise, a paltry email could easily end up parked in a neglected blind spot.
In June I sent in a request to the local H&M office. A month later the Stockholm office said yes. Shortly after, a bing popped up on my screen. The images arrived – a fascinating view of the design nucleus of H&M and the surprised glances of the designers who toil within.
Now that the images are in, we need to get them to speak. Yet, getting a few minutes worth of interview with the designers is another tall order.
The Stockholm office scheduled a live Youtube session for us to speak to the creative brain leading H&M, Pernilla Wohlfahrt, Head of Design and Creative Director. Technical faults plagued the session. Questions couldn't be sent. As the local H&M office scrambled to resolve the issues, the live stream ended.
"OMG... [I'll] contact them now," the local press office exclaimed.
The next route is to send the questions to the designers' desks. It's remarkable that out of these desks are clothes that women and men don every day. It's a global affair, which requires an equally universal team.
Three days later, the local H&M office texted. "Hi! Here are the interview answers from the team." A sense of relief punctuated her words. Here, the men and women who make the H&M clothes that you wear possible.
"I'm an early bird so I try to be in the office quite early. Working in a creative environment makes one day look quite different from another." Löwenstam starts his day reading fashion and business news, followed by meetings. "In some meetings, we talk about work with our collections. In others, about strategic directions."
Löwenstam has been with the company for 12 years now. "Before that, I was with several other fashion companies both in Stockholm and different locations in Europe. When living and working for Levi's in London, I by chance met so many people working for H&M and I felt that it must be a fantastic place to work at," he adds.
This is his 12th year at the company and is now the face of H&M menswear. "As a spokesperson... I also spend some time with our press department, helping them with our communication."
Overseeing both design and press, workdays can potentially be long for Löwenstam. Yet, he has his work-life balance in check. "If I come in at 8 AM, I try to leave not later than 6 PM."
"I spend a lot of time travelling, so my weekends are often scheduled with a trip to a new and exciting place... Waking up early on a Saturday morning and taking the car out to my stable for horse riding, and then in the evening going to a private dinner party is for me, really a dream Saturday."
"As a concept designer, I'm working with the creative vision for the collection, leading the team so we keep that vision throughout." Grimborg sets the tone for H&M's seasonal collections – including the trends. She's been with H&M for 12 years.
"Previously I did an internship in Paris, and also at a Swedish brand Rodebjer." She now resides in Stockholm.
"My day starts at nine o'clock." A workday is never mundane nor repetitive for the 37-year-old. Prior to every collection, she collates research and embarks on "inspiration trips and fabric research trips... In general, we do a fitting session almost every day and we gather the team for collection meetings."
When she's not held up at work, Grimborg invests in family time. "I have a daughter who is nine. She loves to go out on her bike. I live near the water in Stockholm, so we sometimes go kayaking and swimming. I also love to read. Once in a while, I'll go visit a friend out in the archipelago."
Johansson works alongside and supports Grimborg for the seasonal H&M collections. "I'm managing the team and making sure the team follows the vision, the timeline and meet all the deadlines – and that they all have the support they need."
In a day's work, Johansson arrives in the office "at around eight to nine in the morning." What she does throughout the day depends on the progression of the collection. "If it's during the startup, it's a lot of creative meetings, research, planning etc."
Johansson joined H&M when she was 25 – 12 years ago. "It was my former boss at the PR agency I worked for who encouraged me to apply for a position at H&M. I started my career at H&M as an assistant buyer, followed by buyer/ product developer positions and then collection manager."
Her personal life includes a wealth of art and nature – ones that she draw inspiration from. "During the weekends I spend time with my family and friends... The weekends is also a perfect time to get inspired and I often visit museums and design galleries such as Moderna Museet, Fotografiska, Modernity and Jackson are a few of my favourite spots." Otherwise, you'll find Johansson at one of the watering holes in the nightlife district of Riche or the restaurant-barber space, Tjoget.
Like a relay, when the collections are manufactured and arrive in Singapore, visual merchandiser Xavier Lim gets his hands on them. With his 20-strong team, Lim "oversees the visual merchandising presentation" of the clothes in stores.
"This involves a lot of planning and coordination," the 27-year-old stresses. His workday begins at "7 AM and lasts till 5 PM or so."
In every H&M store, the space is divided into several themes – women's and men's casual, office wear, seasonal collections, trends, accessories, children's wear, and beauty products. "This means that I need to understand different brand concepts well – including how trends are perceived by customers and how the products are priced – and see how they can all fit together within the store." To Lim, "It's like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle to create a piece of art."
For the past seven years, Lim has been "working in the Orchard Road area... So I try to avoid hanging out anywhere near town."
"I would rather spend my off days resting at home," Lim candidly adds. "Another thing I enjoy doing is watching fashion and beauty related YouTube channels."
Fresh batches of clothes arrive at the Orchard Road H&M flagship store every morning. Store Manager Jason Pang starts his day at 7 AM "going through an overview of the sales floor to follow up on the previous night's closing shift procedures". Later, he updates the retail team with news from the local office.
"I've been with the brand for six years now. I was part of the pioneer batch when H&M first opened in Singapore." Now Pang oversees the four-storeyed flagship store, including "selling, managing our staff and ensuring good sales at the end of the day."
The 34-year-old lives across the straits in Johor, Malaysia. "It takes a longer time for me to come to work. I will leave home much earlier to avoid the traffic, and I will come home later at night." A career in retail also means Pang doesn't get to spend much time at home. On his days off work, it's his chance to catch up on family time. "[I] usually bring my wife and two sons out for a meal and go around town".
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