Just when you thought Scandinavian supergroup H&M (it’s currently the second biggest apparel retailer globally with a brand value of approximately $18.9bn) couldn’t expand its empire any further it reveals yet another new brand, Nyden: a seasonless, youth-targeting platter of tastemaker assisted accessible luxury (the name is a compound of the Swedish words for New and It) which, according to Head of Product, Christopher Skogfeldt, “feels like a combination of a brand and a start-up.” Birthed from H&M’s global business development division, a section of the company informally regarded as its innovation hub, it will deliberately disobey much of fashion retailing’s standard modus operandi regarding seasons, product groupings and closed in-house design teams. Instead, it’s aiming to establish itself as a retail concept for the disruption generation; an agile brand primed for a marketplace where seasons seem irrelevant, hype is king and the new fashion gods are as likely to be pounding the streets as they are high fashion’s hallowed atelier
Currently online only, there are two key components to Nyden: pieces designed by its in-house design team and pieces co-created with a select group of tastemakers. The former is separated into men’s, women’s and statement pieces but there’s plenty of overlap thanks to a strong sense of gender neutrality via items such as biker jackets, hoodies and t-shirts, plus an absence of categories (it’s not possible to search via skirts or tops, for instance) that makes it reminiscent of Spanish fast-fashion giant Zara ’s 2016 Ungendered collection. Prices range from €450 – €2000 ($525 – $2337) for a leather jacket.
The latter is an ongoing range of products co-created with collaborators from numerous artistic disciplines who, as Skogfeldt poetically puts it, “have been invited to dance on top of our platform.” Current partners include American stylist Farren Jean Andrèa, US singer-songwriter and actress Justine Skye, and Los Angeles-based tattoo artist Dr.Woo. Skogfeldt is emphatic about the importance of legitimate co-creation to ensure Nyden isn’t viewed as merely ad space for agents wanting to pimp out their most marketable talent, or a brand hoping to simply get rich quick off the back of a still-somewhat vacuous influencer economy.
“Co-creation is the model people now want,” says Skogfeldt, citing the huge number of music artists collaborating with/featuring one another on their tracks, “but this isn’t about just adding a name because it’s absolutely essential that Nyden has its own persona that people can clearly see. It’s categorically about having an affinity with someone, not about the number of followers. There’s no need to be rich or famous but you need to have something to say about what you do or see in wider culture, or what you want to change in the world. They cannot be someone who’s deemed passive.”
However, it would be remiss not to note that most have social media audiences in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. An early marketing initiative also deployed a polling system using Instagram Stories; nine fashion bloggers (mostly of the standard pretty-girl-nice-dress fashion variety) used their accounts to ask their fans to choose between garment preferences. While it sits slightly awkwardly with Skogfeldt’s talk of quality creative coalescence, Nyden maintaining its own DNA and also the notion of non-passive social ambassadors, it does corroborate the brand’s commitment to more democratized fashion movement and nurturing tribal fan bases. And after all, this is a business toying with ideas, startup style. “It was essentially a playful early campaign to gain insight beyond our core network,” reveals Skogfeldt.
When asked how the brand is sourcing its co-creators Skogfeldt says it’s down to hard graft, not cynical social media data scouring: “To be honest, it’s through a lot of manual work. We meet a lot of people, we ask for a lot of recommendations. Sometimes we meet very talented people, but they start aren’t the right fit for Nyden right now.” To this end it’s also cultivating a subset of co-creators that generally have far more diminutive fan bases (see New York-based stylist Sashà elina de Oliveira, who currently has less than 12k followers) via it’s #Iamnyden hashtag. Fans of the brand (and/or the opportunity it presents) can use the hashtag to flag themselves up to the Nyden team; if scouted they’ll be flown to LA to co-create a limited-edition collection.
“We ultimately believe that people are going back to their tribes, looking to those who set the trends within smaller tribes as opposed to head designers sitting in an atelier in Paris. The old influencer model is going downhill because people want authenticity.” It’s current cohort of collaborators is heavily skewed towards US and Europe based but it will expand geographically; it’s already eyeing up Asia – a collaboration with a Hong Kong creative will be announced soon.
Skogfeldt believes opening up the brand is critical: “A lot of brands are too afraid to let go. We’re much more about listening to these collaborators when we’re working with them and seeing where the experience might take us, opening our eyes in a way that wouldn’t happen in a traditional system, especially with rigid seasonal timings. If you’re inviting creatives to dance with you then you can’t be scared of the doors it might open.” That’s the magic of collaboration, of creating such a framework, and is certainly the future for brands. It should no longer be about a secret brand room.”
Seasons will be disregarded entirely for both sections (“it’s about creating clothes for right here, right now,” says Skogfeldt) chiming with U.K.-based data revealing that 80% of fashion retailers have already seen revenues increase by going seasonless. Instead, products will generally remain available on the website until they sell out, when they’ll decide whether to remake them or create something entirely new. It may well help address the way in which the traditional fashion calendar has been fueling over-consumption and vast amounts of waste. The concept echoes independent US womenswear label AYR which, in 2017, dispensed with bi-annual collections in favor of offering one new, climate-appropriate piece per week throughout the year. While not exactly a flawless idea (climate is hardly universal) the premise is smart in its acknowledgement of the fact that shoppers are increasingly disinterested in/plain unlikely to do wardrobe refreshes in one go, instead buying incrementally and on a whim.
Similarly, Nyden will release items in drops whenever it feels the time is right – most likely monthly or bi-monthly for the main collection and twice a month for the co-created items, necessitating an extremely flexible internal schedule. It’s a paradigm shift spurred by the booming streetwear market that’s even grabbed the attention of department store juggernauts such as US retail institution Barneys. In late 2017 it hosted a two-day program called ‘The Drop’ in its in NYC flagship where 30 exclusive capsule collections by brands including Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, Korean sportswear label Fila and Italian megabrand Gucci were unleashed in unadvertised succession.
While Nyden is currently rooted firmly in fashion, Skogfeldt suggests it has longer legs: “It’s really a philosophy, which means it needn’t be wedded to fashion in the long term. It could be food or homewares or anything where the trends are set and develop within smaller tribes.”
Katie Baron is an author, strategist & futurist specializing in the intersections between consumer behavior, brands, tech and pop culture. She’s also Head of Retail at Stylus Media Group