Third Time’s the Charm: Can H&M Strike It Lucky in Ginza?

The entrance of the new H&M store in Ginza, Tokyo

The Swedish fast fashion brand H&M first hit Japan on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008, or around 15 years ago. The brand’s first store here proved a social phenomenon, in part because it sat on Ginza-dori avenue, a fashionable street flanked by high-end boutiques and department stores in the Ginza 7-Chome block of Chuo Ward, Tokyo. For its opening, about 5,000 people lined up in front of the store, some of them overnight. It was a sweltering day, with not a cloud in sight. The following Monday, Sept. 15, saw the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which dragged the whole world into a major recession. Apparently, people then mobbed the H&M store in Ginza for its ¥3,000 dresses. Japan’s sinking economy, already sluggish ever since the collapse of the bubble economy in the early of 1990s, was no doubt a major reason for the frenzy.

Nevertheless, in July 2018, about a decade after the grand opening, H&M’s Ginza store closed down. The Japanese branch of the brand’s parent company, H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB, gave several reasons for the closure, including 2018 being the last year for the 10-year contract for the premises, the flow of people in Ginza having changed following the opening of the Ginza Six shopping complex in April 2017, rent being too high and the store being small compared to the brand’s flagship stores in Tokyo’s Shibuya and Shinjuku wards. It appears that H&M — one of the three major reasonably priced apparel brands, along with Inditex’s Zara and Fast Retailing Co.’s Uniqlo — also reviewed its costs beginning around that year because the brand was the only one of the three seeing its profit decline. Moreover, calls were growing for sustainability, and fast fashion companies were facing increasing pressure over their manufacturing of products in countries with low wages, promoting a massive amount of inexpensive and trendy merchandise, and contributing to huge volumes of garbage.

Besides its main brand of H&M, H&M Group also owns the London-born brand COS, which is considered to be a grade above H&M. COS arrived in Japan in November 2014 with a store opening in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo, followed by another store in Ginza in May 2017. But the Ginza store closed on Feb. 12 this year.

Writing the above, I get the feeling that Ginza is something of a cursed spot for H&M, or perhaps a fortress it can never quite conquer.

But now, the brand has descended on Ginza for the third time. A new H&M store opened on May 11, facing the fashionable Namiki-dori avenue, where brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Rolex also have buildings. The H&M store, which has a total sales floor space of 1,300 square meters over its three stories, sells women’s and men’s attire as well as home decor products, as it is the first Japanese branch store to handle products from H&M Home. To celebrate its opening, the store also sold clothes created in collaboration with iconic fashion brand Mugler, famous for its body-hugging designs.

Aneta Pokucinska, the president of H&M Japan, is dressed in a suit the brand created in collaboration with Thierry Mugler. Pokucinska is in her mid-30s, which is likely within the store’s target age range.

The red H&M logo above the store’s entrance is partly obscured by the branches of a roadside tree, creating a somewhat chic look. To me, H&M’s clothes tend to suit women from their late teens to their 20s. But this store seems to target a different consumer: women in their 30s to 50s. Its aisles are spacious, and each floor is designed with its own color concept. It is also the first Japanese branch store to offer coffee for take-away. All in all, the dominant vibe is one of wanting customers to enjoy their shopping, rather than having them make a quick purchase and go right home.

I suspect that this a new strategy by H&M to appeal to potential customers in their 30s to 50s. Has fast fashion entered a new stage? The Ginza store may attract not only Japanese customers but also tourists from overseas. Aneta Pokucinska, the president of H&M’s Japan operations, is confident about the brand’s future in Japan. She says Japan has room for more of the brand’s stores, while the importance of physical shops has grown now that the pandemic emergency is over. The H&M store on Namiki-dori avenue in Ginza is one of seven stores the brand has opened in Japan this spring. As for Harajuku, where it closed its store in 2022, the brand is apparently seeking to open another outlet in the area. The pandemic has quieted down, and H&M has begun its counterattack.

In any case, let’s wait and see whether the new H&M store will overcome the brand’s run of bad luck in Ginza.

Akira Miura

Miura is a journalist and a former editor in chief of WWD Japan.