H&M's Ann-Sofie Johansson: Women are having more fun with fashion
She is probably one of the people who know the most about the inner workings of apparel giant H&M. Ann-Sofie Johansson, head of design for women's fashion, sat down to talk with FashionMag. She also shared her observations on current fashion trends from her privileged vantage point.
FashionMag.com: How long have you worked for H&M? What exactly is the scope of your duties?
Ann-Sofie Johansson: A very long time — since 1997! I started working in one of the stores in Stockholm and I rotated through several positions within the studio. I have been head of design for five years now. I supervise all women's collections, but I especially handle the development of our image collections, the ones we release to the press several months before their store arrival, like the one that was on the runway last February in Paris. Actually, it would be fun to do another one like that in the future. It was a very positive experience for the brand, in the follow-up but also in the simple act of participating in Fashion Week Paris and being completely immersed.
FM: This very fashion-oriented collection is prepared well in advance, but how many seasons are you overseeing all at once?
ASJ: At H&M, we work on three collections at the same time! The most creative collection requires nine months of work before store arrival. The one that showed in Paris in February is in stores now. But at the same time, the studio works on interim seasons, such as swimwear, or even the basics, which we work on before the main collection. And to cap it off, there is the largest volume collection, namely the current season! To do all this, we have 150 designers. A big machine that is not easy to understand but it works! Especially because in general, there is a continuity in terms of style.
FM: What do these more sophisticated collections offer the retailer? What is the goal?
ASJ: In fact, we realized that there was a lot of buzz about fashion at H&M whenever we brought in designers for collaborative initiatives. But that was quite unfair because we have great designers whose work deserves attention. The H&M studio also knows how to create very strong fashion collections. This collection was used to make this point, show off our most cutting-edge sensibilities, such as a more innovative use of materials. And in the store, it is still affordable, more expensive than the main collection but still in line with H&M prices, so it is consistent with the label's overall direction.
FM: Do you see changes in the way women dress? And teenagers?
ASJ: It's more a matter of attitude. The silhouettes as such are changing very slowly. The skinny look, for example, is well established. That will not change overnight. But consumers are having more fun with fashion. They have slightly freed up their approach to fashion. It is less formal. They love dissonant combinations, bringing a paradox into their look. Like the way they play with prints. That is fairly new. The youth has an even more eclectic taste. This coolness and "effortless" will surely last with the next generation of teenagers.
FM: When it comes to consumer habits, do you think the fast fashion business model has a future? The problems with production, with news stories such as Bangladesh, do they have an impact on your opinion?
ASJ: The H&M model is more than just sustainable. It has already been around for forty years! There will always be a need for affordable fashion. Now you have to be very sharp because the competition is very strong, be able to adapt and be alert all the time. This includes taking responsibility on topics such as Bangladesh. Our CEO went there in person to ask the Prime Minister for wage increases. Some consumers are very aware of this problem. They expect us to take a stand.
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