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Christine Edman Heads H&M Japan

The 32-year-old, who is half Japanese, half American, with Swedish citizenship, joins a very limited pool of female executives in Japan.

When Christine Edman was an MBA student at the Stockholm School of Economics a few years ago, business newspaper Dagens Industrie interviewed her and some of her classmates about their goals after graduation.

“They asked me: ‘What is your dream job?’ and I said ‘Well, I want to bring H&M to Japan.’ And then that turned out to be the headline in the newspaper the next day,” Edman said, laughing.

Luckily for her, H&M saw the story and went on to hire the new graduate. She quickly worked her way up the corporate ranks, starting out as a store trainee in Stockholm before moving to Hong Kong to oversee the retailer’s openings in that city and Shanghai. Today, Edman is country manager for Japan, spearheading H&M’s much-anticipated debut here. The first of three Tokyo flagships will open its doors in Ginza on Sept. 13.

The 32-year-old, who is half Japanese, half American, with Swedish citizenship, joins a very limited pool of female executives in Japan. After growing up in Tokyo and studying in the U.S., she worked for both Mattel Inc. and confectionary company Aunt Stella Inc. in Japan before heading to Sweden for graduate school

WWD: Can you tell us a little about your background? Women executives are so few and far between, especially in Japan.
Christine Edman:
I had an opportunity to move to Sweden with my fiancé at the time — now husband — who’s Swedish and that brought me to Sweden and brought me to H&M, actually. It was the first time I had seen H&M and I was really just awestruck by the whole concept and the excitement in the store and I just felt right away, “Ah, this is something that would just be so wonderful in Japan.”

WWD: What is it like moving back to Tokyo?
C.E.:
It’s just like coming home….Just knowing what’s in store for us is very exciting. It’s like we’re living a dream. It’s hectic but you have the energy because it’s something that’s more than a job for you.

WWD: What is your impression of Japanese corporate culture? It’s so rare to see women in positions of authority.
C.E.:
It is rare still but I think it’s slowly changing. We’ve been getting a lot of interest in the media in terms of H&M global about how many women in management positions we have. Out of the 68,000 employees we have, about 80 percent are women. I would say that women are in 76 percent of our managerial positions including store managers, country managers.

WWD: The market for affordable, fashionable clothing in Japan is so competitive. What have you learned from watching your competitors’ experiences here?
C.E.:
Although we [observe] and are conscious of our competition, we really do try to focus most on ourselves and try to improve ourselves and our offering as much as we can. We really want to spend our energy there.

WWD: What have you learned about Japanese consumers so far?
C.E.:
They’re very fashion-conscious. They also are very attentive to both detail and quality and they demand a very high level of customer service.

WWD: It has surprised some people that you’ve decided to open your first Japanese store in Ginza, such a high-scale, expensive part of Tokyo. How do you respond to that?
C.E.:
I would say we are a fashion brand first and foremost and other fashion retailers are present there as well and Ginza is a very great location for people who are interested in fashion.