Long lines of Russian shoppers formed outside H&M stores in Moscow shopping centres this week when the Swedish fashion retailer reopened its doors to sell off stock before pulling out of Russia for good.
Along with a series of other western brands including Ikea, Nike, and Zara owner Inditex, H&M halted operations in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, but opened its doors one last time this week to clear out remaining goods.
Exiting Russia, its sixth-biggest market, is costing the company 2bn Swedish krona (nearly £170m) and affecting 6,000 staff.
“Well, it is closing, that’s why we are standing here,” one customer, Irina, told Reuters. “I’m going to buy whatever there is.”
Another shopper, Ekaterina, said: “Sadly, the reason why all this is happening is awful. Everything else is meaningless, like how we are going to manage [without H&M].”
While the Swedish furniture chain Ikea opted to hold an online-only sale from 5 July, H&M decided to temporarily reopen its stores. The world’s second-biggest fashion retailer after Spain’s Inditex, it rents 170 stores in Russia and has operated them directly.
H&M confirmed there had been queues at stores in shopping centres, and said most of its Russian outlets would reopen during August or September. It plans to keep them open “for a limited amount of time until the majority of the remaining inventory has been sold”.
H&M, which opened in Russia in 2009 and owns clothing brands including Monki, Weekday and Cos, paused its Russian business in early March after western sanctions against Moscow. In mid-July, it decided to follow others such as Nike in quitting the country permanently as the war dragged on and fighting shifted to eastern Ukraine.
“After careful consideration, we see it as impossible given the current situation to continue our business in Russia,” H&M’s chief executive Helena Helmersson said last month. “We are deeply saddened about the impact this will have on our colleagues,” referring to the retailer’s 6,000 staff in Russia.
The US-based fashion retailer TJX and Poland’s biggest fashion retailer LPP have decided to sell their businesses in Russia, while H&M’s biggest rival, Inditex, has yet to decide whether to pull out for good. Its chief executive Óscar García Maceiras told shareholders last month that it would continue to monitor the situation.