H Project at Holt Renfrew is on a mission — bringing the soul of a country to life in the Canadian stores.
This story first appeared in the April 4, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Uncrate India is the latest H Project, launching today.
“This project screamed India because of the color and vibrancy,” said Alexandra Weston, director of brand strategy. “It’s exotic, but within our realm of comfort. Then there’s the workmanship…”
H Project, Weston’s initiative, gathers products that support culture and craft globally as well as those made from sustainable or responsible materials and that tie back to a charitable initiative.
Weston collaborated with jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia, whose House of Waris has been traveling to India for years. “We want to uncrate the special stories, richness and diversity of India through its products,” Weston said. The second installment of H Project runs through May 31.
Besides Indian products, the Bloor and Yorkdale stores in Toronto, and the Vancouver and Calgary units have been decorated to give shoppers a taste of the country. There’s a brightly colored life-size elephant in a store window with orange walls and a purple floor, and in the store’s center court, there’s a fashionably dressed tuk-tuk driver, his cart overflowing with bolts of fabric. “Our visual team understood through our pictures and meetings what the essence of our trip was and they’ve done an incredible job,” Weston said.
Weston combined her love of travel with her interest in doing good to create H Project. “I was inspired by my family and background,” said Weston, whose maternal grandparents founded footwear giant Bata Shoes and whose husband, Galen Weston Jr., is executive chairman of Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and the son of Galen Weston, chairman of Holt Renfrew, the Selfridges Group in the U.K. and Brown Thomas in Ireland, among other retail holdings.
Ahluwalia saw eye-to-eye with Weston immediately. “We’re aligned in that the celebration of craft is an exercise in commerce,” said Ahluwalia. “To support craft is to buy craft.”
Weston and Ahluwalia traveled to Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur and Mandawa. House of Waris jewelry for H Project starts at $200 for rings with semiprescious stones. Fine jewelry starts at $2,000 with the most expensive piece priced at $25,000. The opening price point for Uncrate is $8 for a notebook; color-block-printed children’s clothing, $50; Outhouse jewelry, $100 to $300; ready-to-wear, $200, and House of Waris carpets, $1,000. “It allowed me to make things in different categories,” Ahluwalia said. “This was a chance to play with another price point. We made things that are accessible.”
As for the next locale, “We’re eyeballing South America,” Weston said. “There’s a lot of incredible work there. We’re also looking at Kenya. Definitely something that will bring an element of the armchair traveler experience.”
In keeping with her philosophy, Weston said Holt Renfrew donated $15,000 to UNICEF in India for children’s health and education.