Natural light streams into a work area at & Other Stories' Los Angeles atelier.

As & Other Stories marks its fifth anniversary by entering new markets and launching fresh product categories, it’s hard not to contrast its success with the plight of parent H&M. The Swedish retail giant continues to struggle with disappointing performance. H&M’s full-year 2017 profit declined 13 percent, and the retailer announced it will close more stores than originally planned.

“We’re part of the H&M Group, but we stand on our own when it comes to the creativity and design of products,” said Behnaz Aram, ready-to-wear designer at the Stockholm atelier. “What our customers buy from our stores, we totally do ourselves. You can’t really compare.

“We are very happy to be part of the [H&M] group, and we get support from functions that can help us such as logistics,” Aram added. “We have our own designers and our own financial plan. They look at their portfolio of stores and we have our own direction.”

This month, & Other Stories will unveil its first store in Kuwait, a 15,000-square-foot unit. A store in Gdansk, Poland will open in the spring. The brand’s first Vienna location is set to bow in the fall. Meanwhile, in Paris, where & Other Stories operates three stores and has a presence at department store Printemps, a new unit is on the way. “We have an amazing store coming to the Marais district,” Aram said. “It’s a beautiful location and a very big store.”

In addition to three & Other Stories locations in South Korea and stories.com, the retailer has partnered with South Korean online marketplace thehyundai.com, where it sells its collections.

“We’re still looking around,” Aram said. “We’ll be in 17 global markets with Kuwait.” Aram said there are opportunities in the U.S., where & Other Stories operates seven stores. “There’s still room in L.A. for more stores,” she said. “L.A. has all these neighborhoods where people live and work and don’t like to commute.” Stores are now on North Beverly Drive and South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.  “There could also be more stores in New York besides 505 Fifth Avenue, 575 Broadway and Westfield World Trade Center.”

The brand’s unique creative process is built around designers who work at ateliers in Stockholm, Paris and Los Angeles. Aram said the three ateliers have allowed & Other Stories to be a multicultural brand with each creative hub contributing a distinctive aesthetic.

“You get inspired by other designers in different countries and cultures,” said Caity Knox, a ready-to-wear designer in L.A. “It’s an unusual way to work.”

“We wanted women to feel free to experiment with the way they dressed,” Aram said. “We knew we’d need to inspire them. We thought we could do that if we designed from different cities. At first, we looked at New York, Berlin, Paris and Stockholm. We only had ateliers in the last two cities. New York and Berlin were strictly for inspiration. It became a bit complex. By 2016, there was so much happening in Los Angeles that we decided to open one there.”

“We’ve worked with L.A.-based designer Clare Vivier, who was one of our co-lab designers,” said Knox. “We’ve done lots of photo shoots in L.A. and we collaborated with Rodarte. L.A. is a city of movies and arts. I really love the movies, and all the vintage places. We have the best stores and flea markets in the world. I spend time shopping for vintage  pieces and going to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.”

“In Stockholm, we’re more practical,” Aram said. “It’s about silhouettes. The inspiration on our side is architecture, art and Scandi Chic. It’s the minimal tailored look inspired by men’s wear, but still with femininity. We have great architecture in Sweden. There’s a lot to look at. In the summer, there’s the Archipelago. Stockholm is close to nature.”

“We’re in warmer weather, so when you’re designing winter coats, we’re wearing shorts,” said Knox. “We wear winter clothes so differently. When we wear winter clothes, it’s not for practicality, it’s for fun. It comes down to the styling, and we style winter clothes through an L.A. lens.”

“In Sweden, the seasons are clear. Winter is winter, and summer is summer,” Aram said. “I don’t know how I would design in L.A. It’s a challenge.”

“We have to promote the three ateliers,” Aram said, noting that the web site now lists where each item was made. For example, the site says a printed culotte jumper was designed in Los Angeles.

Aram said a designer partnership is planned for the spring, but declined to provide any details.

Knox is working on a project with L.A. celebrity hairstylist Kylee Heath, who created Nicole Kidman’s red carpet hairstyle for the 90th Academy Awards. Heath is co-developing for & Other Stories’ first hair-care range, which will be in stores in the summer. Products include Universal Blowout Lotion, Fullness Thickening Cream, Fullness Volume Powder and Universal Hairspray.

“We want to have all the categories a woman can wear,” Aram said. “We launched stationery last year, so we extended that to everything she can carry in her bag and display on her desk. We want to be a one-stop shop for styling. Home could be something in the future.”

The digital growth at & Other Stories has been organic. “The digital and physical stores work together and are equally important,” Aram said. “Shopping behavior is constantly changing, and different platforms offer different possibilities. We launched our online store simultaneously with our physical store, which was lucky. Today we have an online site that’s in sync with our in-store campaigns and all our inspiration from Paris, Stockholm and Los Angeles, so shoppers can find items in a convenient and inspiring way.”

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