The Dubrovnik Times caught up with the director of Hennes and Mauritz, or H & M, for Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, Claudia Oszwald. Southern Croatia now has its first ever branch of this popular high-street brand with the opening of a shop inside the SUB City shopping centre in Zupa. In fact this is the 15th branch of H & M in Croatia, but the first in Dubrovnik. The opening of this new shop was attended by Oszwald who was impressed with the new store and shopping centre.
I can see from your CV that you are related to Dubrovnik. You were born on the 3rd of February which is the day that Dubrovnik celebrates its patron saint, St. Blaise.
I know that day was the celebration of Saint Blaise, but I did not know that he is the patron of Dubrovnik. That's great!
Is this your first time in Dubrovnik?
Thank God it's not! I've been here several times before. I'm speechless, it's incredibly beautiful, one of the most beautiful places that exists and it is a great privilege to be here for the opening of this branch. This also means that I will be able to visit the city more often. It's fantastic!
Many Austrian come to Croatia on vacation. What this the case for you as well?
I have been to Croatia twice on holiday. But since I have started working in the country I have had the opportunity to experience some fantastic places. Before I did not come so often, but since 2011 I am a regular guest here and I am thrilled with the country and its people. When we stopped in front of the shop I said: Finally we are in Dubrovnik!
As "Country Manager" for H & M you enjoy great autonomy. What drove you to open a branch in the south of Croatia?
We have been present in Croatia since 2011. That was the year that we opened our first branch in Zagreb. H & M is very well received by our customers in the country. As you know, we then go step by step towards the expansion and have now expanded throughout all of Croatia. What we always lacked was the south of Croatia. Now we are naturally very happy that we have finally got the chance to be in the Dubrovnik area.
So you were already planning to open a store in Dubrovnik but just lacked the right space?
Exactly. For us it is very important to always have the best location. Regardless of whether it is in the city centre or in a mall, this can sometimes take a while, but you need to have patience.
What customers can expect from the Dubrovnik area?
I'm happy here; we can offer almost all our product range. So, there is fashion for men, women, teenagers and children. We offer clothing for the whole family, and there is a supply of jewellery. The local offer is almost complete.
Customers are given the opportunity to leave their old clothes in your branches and then get a discount for a new piece of clothing. Will this model of recycling be on offer here?
Of course. We are very proud because sustainability is a very important issue for H & M. The ability to offer our customers the opportunity that they can bring their old clothes and then receive a voucher for a discount is one aspect. Another aspect is that the question of what we do with that collected old goods? Recycle old clothes all over the world and make new products from recycled materials. Our aspiration is that of old clothes we can produce entirely new pieces of clothing. In our department we have a Jeans-department "Denim-Reborn", and there are products created from recycled products.
Is it important to quantify how much of the old goods people can bring? Are there any benchmarks?
No, all you can fit in a plastic bag which can be inserted into the appropriate box. Of course, if it comes with a whole container then it will be difficult, but as I said, all that can fit in a plastic bag. The customer can do this five or fifteen times, it does not matter.
How many fashion conscious are Croatians?
Croats are very fashionable. Croatian customers are great customers who have fashion preferences that are clearly oriented to what is new in fashion, but they are also conscious when it comes to quality and materials.
Most employees at H & M are women. What is the relationship of employees here in Croatia?
We don’t see any difference between the sexes; we are an equal opportunities employer. In Croatia we have around 400 employees.
Your career with H & M started as a shop assistant. Does the H & M employment ladder operate this successfully?
It's easy and it's always possible. If you're engaged, passionate in your work, if the work place acts properly then anything is possible. We are constantly looking for resources. We open hundreds of branches each year all over the world. In the fall we will open a new branch office in South Africa, the phones are constantly "hot".
What is your recipe for success for the future and current employees?
The recipe is hard to put my finger on.
Is it more a matter of luck or ability?
I think it is based on merit. It depends on how long someone has been employed and sometimes also depends on how brave you are. In H & M we sometimes get such challenges where you think, "Hmm...maybe it will not succeed," But, if you have the courage to make the first steps then you can succeed if you have the skills for it. Flexibility is of course also an important factor. I have always accepted the challenges that I have encountered.