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Securing 74 more years in fashion: H&M Group shapes the future of retail with tech

How do you secure another 74 successful years within fashion retail? One important step is by harnessing the power of tech as an enabler to a sustainable fashion future and recognising the need for collaboration. H&M Group’s CEO Helena Helmersson, and CTO Alan Boehme — keynote speaker at the Web Summit conference 2021 — explain.

H&M Group’s human centered approach to tech is grounded in the company’s heritage and values.

When the world changes — whether through a pandemic or the effects of climate change — H&M Group adapts. Luckily the entrepreneurial spirit is within the DNA of the company, which celebrates its 75th year in 2022. Just ask anyone of the Group’s approximately 153,000 employees around the tagline “entrepreneurial spirit” and they will give you their own clear interpretation — the expression is a well-known ingredient in the company’s strong and value-driven culture.

In the business since 1947

What started 74 years ago as a small store in the Swedish town of Västerås, H&M is one of those fashion brands with the kind of genuine history that many branding marketeers can only dream of for storytelling: what started as a family business decades ago, still has family members in the board, and is continuing to grow globally during a transformational period for the fashion and retail industries.

H&M was founded in 1947 by Erling Persson (1917–2002). Today, H&M Group is a global family of brands and businesses.

Back in 1947, founder Erling Persson’s (1917–2002), grandfather of Karl-Johan Persson (1975-) the current Chair of the Board of Directors, ambition was to offer fashion at the best price. Today, H&M Group is a global family of brands and businesses with fashion, lifestyle and customers at its heart. The Group runs its business in 53 online markets and has approximately 4,850 stores in 75 markets. In 2020, net sales were SEK 187 billion. To democratise fashion is still the key business idea, but the tagline has evolved: to offer fashion and quality at the best price in a sustainable way.

Tech shapes the sustainable future of fashion

In comparison to 1947, a period when photos were printed in black and white, opportunities today are almost overwhelming. Lately, the pandemic has accelerated the already ongoing digital transformation of the industry, rapidly changing customers’ behaviour. Helena Helmersson, CEO H&M Group, refers to ”sustainability, AI and innovations in textile” as most important, when talking about H&M Group and rebuilding the industry of tomorrow.

“Sustainability, AI and innovations in textiles are allowing us to rebuild the industry of tomorrow. This opens to lots of creativity and new opportunities. New technology allows us to engage even more with our customers and be more creative and fun. Who would have imagined a few years back that you would be able to scan yourself to get a pair of jeans with a perfect fit, especially made for you on-demand like the ones I am wearing today? That is now a reality”, she says.

Watch Helena Helmersson (in Weekday 3D Body Scan jeans) talking about shaping the future of fashion with tech:
Length: 01:03 min

A human centered approach to tech

In 2020, Alan Boehme was appointed Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at H&M Group.

”Combining technology advancements will serve as a driver for H&M Group to become an even more customer-centric company where new growth opportunities are enabled. I’m excited about being part of accelerating H&M Group’s digital transformation”, he said then.

H&M Group’s human centered approach to tech is grounded in the company’s heritage and values. Smart use of technology and data is integrated into everything the company does. H&M Group will continue, as we speak, providing its customers with a frictionless experience and empowering its designers and other employees, all the while using tech to make their operations more efficient, secure and sustainable.

H&M Group’s CTO at Web Summit

Boehme will speak at the Web Summit 2021 conference, in Lisbon. He sees the future as an opportunity to think big. The audience can look forward to hearing about the future of fashion retail as Boehme will share the Group’s ambitions to accelerate digitalisation.

”We want to use tech to drive positive social, environmental, and commercial changes, but we can’t do it alone”, he says.

 A conference “where the future goes to be born”

The Web Summit has been called “the best technology conference on the planet” by Forbes, “the world’s premier tech conference” by Politico, while New York Times and Atlantic states “[it’s] a grand conclave of the tech industry’s high priests” and “[it’s] where the future goes to be born”. Of course, it’s a made to measure fit for Boehme, who is attending Web Summit for his eight-year.

“This is a pivotal moment in our industry where technology is accelerating transformational change — we want to use it to drive positive social, environmental, and commercial changes, but we cannot do it alone. Our vision for the future of fashion and retail requires collaboration with the most creative and innovative minds in tech, which is why we are so thrilled to be part of Web Summit”, Boehme says.

H&M Group has clear ambitions and bold goals and understand that their entire business must be conducted in a way that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable — tech is the enabler.

Alan Boehme, CTO H&M Group.
Web Summit is an annual technology conference, considered the largest tech event in the world.
Web Summit 2021 takes place in Lisbon.

About Web Summit

  • Web Summit is an annual technology conference, founded in 2009 in Ireland, considered the largest tech event in the world.
  • Web Summit 2021 takes place in Lisbon, November 1–4.
  • The event brings together founders and CEOs of technology companies, fast-growing startups, policymakers, heads of state, entrepreneurs and companies redefining the global tech industry.

Visit H&M Group at Web Summit 2021 in Lisbon, November 1–4

Listen to H&M Group voices:

  • Keynote, “The future of fashion and retail” with Alan Boehme, CTO H&M Group, Tech stage, Modum, November 4, 12:45–1 PM (WET).
  • Keynote, “Move fast and fix things: Creating a building code for the internet” with Christopher Wylie, Director of Research H&M Group, Panda conf, November 2, 4:05–4:25 PM (WET).
  • Panel, “Ads, privacy, blockchain” with Christopher Wylie, Panda conf, November 3, Panda Conf, 3:15–3:40 PM (WET).

H&M Group’s exhibition space will be located in Pavillion 2 — E219.  What visitors can expect:

  • Interactive experiences that merge fashion and design with tech, innovation, and sustainability. Our global H&M Group ambassadors from across the company will connect and share learnings.
  • Design a T-shirt using AR Magic Leap glasses together with Creator Studio — H&M Group’s recently launched new business initiatives, a B2B service offering on-demand print services for the merchandise industry by utilising the H&M Group’s lean production process.
  • Lightning talks: Ethical AI, personalisation, data mesh and assortment planning.
  • Scan H&M Group’s QR code to get access to activities such as joining our talent community, quiz, and cracking the code.
  • H&M Group’s Social Media filter: Take a selfie with the AR glasses with the H&M Group customised filter.
  • As an exclusive partner for the event volunteer program, H&M Group has teamed up with Creator Studio to co-design the Web Summit T-shirts and lanyards, worn by around 3,000 Web Summit volunteers.
Volunteer T-shirts by H&M Group, Creator Studio and Web Summit.

H&M Group unlocks the future of fashion with tech

Some examples of ongoing H&M Group collaborations that fundamentally change the circumstances that the industry acts under today:

  • The Looop. The Looop is a collaboration between H&M Foundation, HKRITA (The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel) and Hong Kong-based yarn spinner Novetex Textiles. The machine recycles old clothes in real-time. It’s the first working prototype for garment upcycling.
  • Made of Air. Fashion innovation empowers different voices to make both aesthetic and technological advancements possible due to H&M Group’s scale. A collaboration between H&M Group’s Circular Innovation Lab (CIL) and French company Made of Air. Recapturing carbons and sourcing green fabrics help expand existing fashion needs.
  • TextileGenesis. Apartnership between H&M Group and TextileGenesis, winner of Global Change Awards by H&M Foundation, aiming to make supply chains more transparent. Using blockchain tech, TextileGenesis traces the steps of a garment’s creation, every process used and the locations of the farms, plants, factories and facilities at which these processes occurred.
  • Weekday 3D Body Scan. Personalised, on-demand manufacturing. A collaboration between Weekday, The Laboratory at H&M Group, and external vendors, including the Global Change Award Early Bird Winner Unspun. Customers can have their body 3D scanned in-store, which then generates a digital avatar, enabling customers to try different denim colours and styles virtually. Machine learning converts the body scan into a paper pattern and measurement list. The jeans are then produced and can be picked up in-store, or delivered, a few weeks later. The fit is based on an algorithm created by Unspun.
Personalised denim — Weekday 3D Body Scan jeans.

Join H&M Group

Are you interested in joining teams within H&M Group that are passionate about areas such as technology, production, logistics and customer service? Read more.

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