Archive, Market, Arket: The radical concept of a retail archive

AMSTERDAM – Part of the H&M group, Arket arrives in the with the opening of its sixth store at Koningsplein 20. Touting itself as a ‘modern-day market’ offering essentials for men, women, children and the home, Arket is a fast-growing brand, with its first store having opened only last August in London’s Regent Street.

Arket’s retail spaces do not simply co-exist with its broader online presence, but embody a phygital approach. The retail brand makes the unusual choice of blanketing its store with a grey palette, creating a kind of ‘anti-experience’.

While its name alludes to ‘archive’ and ‘market’, keystones of the brand, Arket in fact means ‘sheet of paper’ in Swedish – a nod to the team’s Nordic heritage. Arket’s archival approach to retail is another unusually transparent concept similar to that of Everlane, which breaks down its retail price tags to disclose the production costs, transportation costs and mark-up of each item of clothing. ‘We believe in transparency as a necessary companion to sustainability,’ says Arket managing director Lars Axelsson. Not only does Arket assign unique ID codes to each product that indicate its department, category and material, the brand also places strong emphasis on manufacturing and production history.

We want to share as much information on the design and production process as we can

Customers can refer to the Arket ID codes provided on all products in the store to look up this information on its website, which serves as a digital archive. A women’s blazer is no longer simply a piece of clothing, but comes with a product story accessible through its ID number: how it was made in Bucharest, Romania, by Artiflex, an apparel manufacturer founded from the merging of a Swiss couture brand with a Romanian factory. ‘We are proud of the suppliers we work with,’ says Axelsson. ‘We want to share as much information on the design and production process as we can.’


However, you won’t find hundreds of papers of such product information in the store. Arket’s retail spaces do not simply co-exist with its broader online presence, but embody a phygital approach where the two realms interact and complement each other. ‘When we considered the role of the contemporary physical store, we concluded that it must be a place to see products up close,’ says Axelsson. ‘Rather than reproducing the product information in the store, customers can just use the Arket ID on all products to look it up. We wanted to highlight materials, themes, and other aspects of the collection in different ways and create a visual focus that provides a contrast with the efficient digital archive system.’ 

The retail brand makes the unusual choice of blanketing the surfaces in its store with a grey palette, creating a kind of ‘anti-experience’ in the space. Grey furniture, floors, retail display elements and terrazzo modules blur into a tabula rasa background where the products become distinctive splashes of colour that attract the eye and invite touch. ‘But more importantly [than highlighting the products],’ Axelsson continues, ‘A physical store has to be a place where customers feel at ease and are happy to spend time. Including a café seemed like a natural way to achieve this.’

We wanted to create a visual focus that provides a contrast with the efficient digital archive system

Headed by chef Martin Berg, the Arket café takes the  as its vision, offering fresh, simple cuisine with quality ingredients. The space overlooks a picturesque canal and features custom-made furniture in warm wood. ‘We wanted to bring something new to the current retail landscape by creating spaces that feel generous,’ says Axelsson. ‘The retail calculation traditionally considers empty space a wasted opportunity, but we felt the opposite. We wanted to have the room to inspire and talk about the products in intriguing ways.’

Located along the Herengracht and Singel, two of Amsterdam’s World Heritage Site canals, the store is housed over three levels in a historical building. Designed with several custom-made solutions in order to preserve the original architecture, the overarching design takes inspiration from the archive concept, seeking to create an efficient system for accessing and shopping the various collections. ‘The system is built on the simplest building component you can think of – a wooden plank – repeating itself vertically and horizontally to create a continuous grid throughout the building,’ says Axelsson.

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