Expanding the business is part of H&M’s DNA. Initially called Hennes, the ‘M’ was added in 1968 through the purchase of Mauritz Widforss which added menswear to the stock. Over the past decade, several newcomers have been added to the H&M group – COS was introduced in 2007 and in 2008 FaBric Scandinavien AB (including Weekday, Cheap Monday, and Monki) became part of the H&M family. But as Samuel Fernström, (General Manager of & Other Stories) and his team in 2010 were handed the project that would become & Other Stories, the brief did not mention setting up a new fashion brand.
“It all started with a question,” explains Samuel. “What might a new cosmetics brand within the H&M family look like? That was followed by discussions about a new cosmetics brand that could stand on its own feet. As the idea took shape, we soon realised we wanted to find a new way of giving the customer an entire look - the accessories, the shoes, the bags.”
“Just creating a cosmetics brand felt too narrow,” continues Samuel. “So we started sketching out the idea of a brand dedicated to women who are into creating their own style, in charge of curating their entire personal look. The beauty products would be just one part of this fashion collection, and the customer would be able to find all of it in one place. The main difference between us and the other brands of the H&M Group, however, is still that we started out doing accessories, with fashion being the final piece of the puzzle.”
It was soon decided that the new brand - which had already been given the working title & Other Stories - would never judge styles or fashion on the basis of anything being “right” or “wrong”. Anyone should be able to find something at & Other Stories to suit her closet and taste.
Samuel continues: “We soon realised, however, that offering diversity in the way we wanted meant setting up design ateliers in different places, with different kinds of designers being inspired by different things. At first Stockholm, Tokyo, New York, and Berlin were on the shortlist, but the final choice was Stockholm and Paris. Our designs from Paris tell a story of femininity that can be quirky and eclectic on the one hand, and elegant and feminine on the other. The signature of our Stockholm atelier is more minimalist with sharply tailored pieces, merged with innovative Scandinavian elements. Mixing the collections allows the customer to create her own, personal style.”
Caroline Björkholm, who works with & Other Stories communication joined the team at an early stage. She recalls that the initial discussions about the concept went on forever: “We were talking about how to make all these ideas come alive. A favourite topic was the look of fashion imagery, and the yearning for a more ‘real’ expression. At that point in time, street style blogs were the latest craze, and provided us with inspiration. We wanted to portray alternatives and diversity.”
To widen the collections and find both a unique expression and a distinctive shop mirroring the brand values, the collections were designed in parallel with the creation of digital communication platforms and the physical store concepts. Caroline continues: “The aim was to create a fashion image that felt open yet personal, as opposed to narrow and dictating. This led to the casting of upcoming models and personalities as well as talented young photographers just embarking on their careers.”
Ebba Kettner was recruited to the team from H&M in 2010 to work with the brand design. “Every single thing within our brand needs to feel personal and unique. Using a hand-drawn logo was just the beginning. Our bags - standard paper bags you’ll find in many different shops - have turned into a collector’s item thanks to the ‘colour dip’ concept, which we update to align with current trends. It’s the same with our hangtags and other material. Take the trolley tables in the stores, for example. Inspired by the backstage areas at fashion shows, we of course wanted them to look good, but the fact that they’re flexible, sturdy, and capable of supporting quick in-store layout changes is just as important. We can turn almost anything into inspiring and unique objects.”
All & Other Stories communication and graphic design is developed in the brand’s creative atelier in Stockholm, which includes a photo studio and a full-scale prototype shop space where ideas and mock-ups can be tested. In many ways, the atelier is similar to the stores, and that is precisely the idea: walking into one of the shops should be like “coming home to” & Other Stories, becoming a part of the creative process.
In spring 2013, the first & Other Stories shop opened on London’s Regent Street. At the same time, online sales kicked off in ten markets across Europe. The concept was soon both acknowledged and praised, in particular by customers, who got engaged and spread the word through their own channels. Samuel Fernström has fond memories of the period: “We really didn’t understand just how well we were doing. We opened in London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin, Milan, and Barcelona - and everywhere enthusiastic customers greeted us. For a while it felt like we were opening a new shop every week. It felt like being on tour. The coolest part about it was to watch the customers doing exactly what we had hoped they would do: mixing the collections and sharing the looks they were creating.
& Other Stories now has more than 30 stores, with more planned. The first U.S. store opened in 2014 and the launch was given a lot of attention, not least because of the choice of model – the more than 90 year old fashion icon Iris Apfel. “It took a year and a half to get an appointment with her,” says Caroline Björkholm. “In the end, I managed to track her down through Ari Seth Cohen, the photographer running the Advanced Style blog. He set up a lunch in Manhattan with her and her housekeeper. She loved the brand and our ideas, and we gave her free reins to choose her own outfits for the campaign that was shot by Cohen.”
The openings in London and New York went to show that the team had created something that wasn’t just lacking in their world, but that was appreciated by many more. To quote one of New York’s fashion blogs, commenting on the Manhattan store launch:
”Start making room in your closet because H&M sister brand & Other Stories is coming to the US — and it is good."
What does the name "& Other Stories" actually mean?
Samuel Fernström, Managing Director: “There has always been talk about "stories" in the world of fashion, and early on we had this idea that the customers would be able to “tell their own story” with us. At the same time we wanted a name that could be combined with different things - cities, ideas, people. From that starting point, we ended up with an expression that writers use to name collections of short stories, where you write out the title of the first story and then continue with "& Other Stories", such as "Dresses & Other Stories". That way, we had half a name that could be changed depending on what was put in front of it. There were a few other proposals on the table, but once we came up with this, the discussion was pretty much over.”