CAIRO: “Cheap chic, “fast fashion – pert monikers for Swedish clothier Hennes & Mauritz’s (H&M) retail style abound.
Whatever the label, people are buying it: Since 2000, the chain has mushroomed through North America and Asia. Today they run over 1,500 stores in nearly 30 countries. Last year their revenues pushed 92.1 billion Swedish krona ($15.7 billion).
Now, after several years in the Gulf, the retailer is set to test its sartorial instincts in Cairo. Earlier this month M.H. Alshaya, the Kuwaiti firm licensing H&M’s Middle East stores, announced that a two-floor, 35,000-square-meter shop will open in CityStars mall on June 5.
“Why is it coming now? Because Egypt finally opened up as a market to international brands, said one representative for Alshaya who asked not to be named due to company policies on talking to media about business matters. “The market seems very fashion-conscious, very international.
“Disposable fashion has become so popular, she said. “It’s such a fast-paced environment. People don’t really want to keep something for a very long time. They want something that’s fashionable and trendy but at the same time they don’t want to spend a lot of money.
Since 2006, H&M has opened 11 stores in Kuwait, Qatar and Dubai’s famously audacious Mall of the Emirates. Cairo will make the 12th spot, with plans to unveil shops in Bahrain and Oman by the end of the year.
Alshaya, a private company over a century old, runs a number of brands in Egypt, including Next, Topshop, Foot Locker and Starbucks.
“H&M – they don’t usually franchise, one source familiar with the brand said. “It’s something they’ve done once because they wanted to enter the Middle East.
Generally, laws in Kuwait and other Gulf countries require international retailers to partner with a local company. And regulations in Egypt and other Arab nations are, of course, different from those of Europe and North America. A partner who can navigate labyrinth of local bureaucracies is often not just helpful, but necessary. Some technical snags have already delayed H&M’s opening by several months. There are also local norms of decency to consider – and fashion can make for an exceptionally risqué brand of ads. Alshaya representatives said that while marketing H&M in Europe and the Middle East is mostly the same, occasional editing is needed here.
“We try to do a little retouching, said one representative. “We don’t want to offend anyone.
H&M’s clothes are made in hundreds of factories throughout the world, many in China. Everything sold in the Middle East is shipped through Dubai, the regional hub. No plans to manufacture in Egypt, where textiles are a central industry, have been announced.
The spotlight cast on Egyptian poverty by the April 6 strike and the food shortages that triggered it have garnered new attention for the entrance of upscale brands to Cairo recently, with some labeling it a sign of a widening gulf between the rich and poor, while others cite it as evidence of an ascendant middle class.
Last Sunday Egyptian Chronicles blogger “Zeinobia, 24, balked at the news that H&M and Juicy Couture, a high-end fashion name, will open in Cairo. “Look I do not hate that these fancy brands come and open branches in Egypt but now!!?? she wrote. “You know sometimes I feel that one day we will have a real hunger revolution, a very strong one that will make the 1977 protests a picnic. I feel that the first thing that will be destroyed is the CityStars mall.