ON WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, a select crowd of press and others deemed "the Who's Who of Portland" were allowed in for first dibs on a retailer whose arrival has been anticipated in Portland for years: H&M. Mayor Sam Adams, who was also in attendance, has compared the Swedish corporation's local outpost to a "jewel" in downtown's retail center, and even loyal patrons of local design and small boutiques have been licking their chops in anticipation of trendy basics on the cheap to fill out their closets. (Though maybe not to the same extent as the teenagers huddled in tents on the sidewalk outside, in anticipation of the store's public opening the next day.)
Equal parts worry and excitement, the talk of H&M's impending arrival has most often centered on the effect it will have on the independents. But the worriers needn't worry: Even a cursory examination of the merchandise immediately belies the low cost. Natural fibers are scarce, and nearly everything carries a tag proclaiming manufacturing origins in far off, low-wage countries. You might spy Portland's fashionable set popping in for a deal on simple layering pieces (and whose curiosity can resist checking out the Lanvin collaboration releasing on Saturday?), but if you're not mixing them up with higher qualities and price points, you're not going to get away with anything—especially if someone lights a match.
It's disposable clothing, but sometimes clothing is disposable: Socks and underwear don't last forever no matter how much you spend, and pregnant women and parents of young children can't be expected to invest in clothing that's not even going to fit within a matter of months.
Even owners of the supposedly threatened independent boutiques in town have enthused H&M's arrival, citing the big-city credibility that it projects, and arguing that it will elevate the general retail excitement and ultimately benefit everyone. Not to mention that the company's arrival has created some much-needed jobs, and rid us of one more demoralizing empty storefront. Plus it's hard not to take it as flattery that Portland has been deemed a fashion-forward enough market to receive exclusive designer collaborations like the Lanvin one.
Wednesday's VIP party wasn't limited to shopping; local restaurants like Broder and Bunk were invited to distribute food and cocktails, in a clear bid to endear the multinational company to us with a little local charm. One can envision that peaceful coexistence of the local and the mass-produced boding positively for the relationship's future. Let's hope the big guy helps the little guy more than it hurts.