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Holt Renfrew’s Alexandra Weston redefines the business of luxury

Launched in May 2013, the H Project is an in-store shop offering products with extraordinary stories curated by Alexandra Weston, Director of Brand Strategy at Holt Renfrew. All the fashion, home décor, and beauty items featured either support artisanal community work, use responsible materials, or give back to charity. 

You started the H Project to make a difference, and to collaborate with partners who were doing the same. In your experience, how big a difference can initiatives like this make?

It’s really the difference between someone living in a slum and having to work in a destructive job, the sex trade industry or the drug industry, to pay for just survival, or having a job in a small women’s cooperative where they can bring their children, and there’s a daycare centre, and the co-op opens a bank account for them to help manage their income and encourage saving. We’ve visited these communities, and met those who have found the path out. And the steppingstone is fair, ethical work.

When you’re searching for products that fit the H Project criteria, do you keep in mind the Holt Renfrew luxury aesthetic?

At the end of the day, products that have incredible stories associated with them, and that have a real sense of humanity, that is luxury. To me this defines luxury. And of course we must also reflect the Holt Renfrew brand experience, and integrate into the store environment. It’s carefully and passionately curated. First and foremost, we want people to pick the product up, regardless of the story. It’s so much more than the bamboo stereotype that some might have.

“At the end of the day, products that have incredible stories associated with them, and that have a real sense of humanity, that is luxury. To me this defines luxury.”

Do you see this definition of luxury—artisanal, responsible, with an incredible story—as something that reaches broader than the H Project?

A lot of luxury brands are celebrating their heritage, in that they are locally handmade. However, more and more now they are telling their stories as a selling feature—and not just the end product. There’s a movement now to not only tell the story you have, but to reconsider your approach so that there is something more meaningful to a brand and its product. To me, that’s the height of luxury, to have an incredibly well made, high-quality product, where you know exactly who touched it, how many hands, what kind of dye was used—having that insight.

Do you have your eye on trends? Is that a consideration when you’re curating the H Project?

These pieces are about their uniqueness, rather than trends. But with the right styling, most pieces can be worked into a trend. We still buy products seasonally, so that there’s always newness coming in. It’s hard to stay on the strict fashion season schedule because we work with so many small companies, but then we have more flexibility. There’s always some new product there.

Interested in women who are making a difference? Check out our Charity of Choice, G(irls)20.