Skip to main content

How Star Wars Brought the Force to H&M and Instagram

If there ever was a moment made for the theater and hype of experiential retail, the ninth film in the Star Wars just might have been it.

When “The Rise of Skywalker” bowed just days before Christmas, Stockholm-based Hennes & Mauritz was poised to ride a reenergized tide of fandom and leverage immersive technology to make a memorable experience and one-of-a-kind, made-to-order products.

Augmented reality and related mixed reality experiences are “pushing the boundaries of what the retail experience should look like,” H&M immersive tech lead Tomas Stocksén said Sunday at the NRF Big Show in New York City. The clothing chain partnered with nine-year-old Magic Leap—whose spatial computing platform “combines computer vision and AI [artificial intelligence] to integrate digital content into the real world,” as the startup’s director of product strategy and business development Kathy Wang puts it—to infuse new energy into an unforgettable in-store experience.

H&M offered customers and fans of Disney-owned Star Wars the chance to custom design their own T-shirt, with the unique twist that some garments were upcycled from clothing previously donated through—and bought back from—its textile takeback scheme, executed by I:CO, that accepted 20,000 tons of material in 2018 alone, Stocksén said. Using reclaimed T-shirts versus buying new saves 2,000 liters of water, on top of 5 liters of CO2, he added.

For a limited time at the H&M Harajuku store in Tokyo, consumers were able to select a T-shirt, don Magic Leap’s augmented reality glasses, gesture with their hands to digitally manipulate a Star Wars design featuring characters from the franchise onto the garment’s blank canvas and minutes later receive their finished, custom-made product from the store’s print workshop. The experience proved so popular, Stocksén said, that the store found it “difficult to meet the demand.”

H&M and makeup brand Pat McGrath made experiential magic for fans of the Star Wars film franchise when "The Rise of Skywalker" bowed.
H&M’s store in Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood. H&M

Related Stories

More so than many other demographics, the millennial generation, Wang added, is ready and “willing to spend some more money on experiences rather than just on things.” While a great experience might translate into this consumer going on to make a purchase, “this is what people remember,” she said, adding that most people recall their most cherished memories from an momentous event or live experience.

And experience-hungry millennials are “putting their dollars where their mouth is,” Wang said, noting that consumers are spending on experiences at four times the rate that they’re purchasing goods in general.

H&M’s Star Wars experience illustrates how retail can leverage tech in different ways, bring added value to a product and even avoid overproduction by finding new life for previously used garments, Stocksén noted—all while funneling foot traffic into stores.

“This is a new way that we utilize new technology to engage with our customers and bring new design to them and delight them,” he said.

Makeup guru Pat McGrath similarly seized the Star Wars moment, launching a special cosmetic collection in collaboration with the franchise timed to the latest film’s release. Using Instagram’s “whole suite of tools,” the brand drove a frenzy around the launch, Layla Amjadi, product lead, Instagram Shopping, said during an NRF session on social commerce.

Pat McGrath used the platform’s drop stickers to notify her 3 million followers of when they would be able to purchase the limited-run items, and made the release exclusive to Instagram for the first 24 hours, Amjadi added, which “got her community excited.”

Whether online or off, brands, platforms and retailers are discovering that commerce can benefit from a dose of experiential magic to create not just moments to remember but also more often than not, an irresistible reason to buy.