HEMA: affordable Dutch design

Jeroen Apers, vrijdag 26 juli 2013

Like pretty much every regular Dutch person, I love to browse the HEMA’s shelves. They have pretty much everything, from paperclips to curtains and from (children’s) underwear to sausage buns (which come highly recommended, by the way). Ninety years ago the Hollandsche Eenheidsprijzen Maatschappij Amsterdam (Dutch Standard Prices Company Amsterdam) was founded as a low-price store. And they are still known for their unprecedented value for money. What really makes them stand out from the competition, however, is their clear philosophy that reflects the belief that cheap does not necessarily have to mean boring or ugly. The products are no-nonsense; you have to be able to see directly what they do. Unnecessary details are eliminated. Every product must comply with the stringent ‘HEMA style bible’. It is a formula that guarantees success.

Since the nineteen eighties, HEMA has been organising an annual design competition for young designers, who represent a fresh interpretation of society and design.. It has led to a series of affordable design classics such as the Le Lapin tea kettle and the Tast Toe (Dig in!) cardboard cake stand. Last year student designer Hiske Elferink won the competition with her ‘décolleté wallet’. The name speaks for itself and it’s a practical gadget if you want to hit the town and leave your handbag at home.

HEMA is so closely woven into Dutch society that the company served as the inspiration for the Mediamatic design platform in an exhibition on multicultural society: ‘El Hema’. The super-Dutch HEMA was linked to the Arab culture. Temporary stores were opened where you could buy extraordinary products, such as the Tomphoemoes (a quintessentially Dutch pastry filled with hummus), Roller Burka-Blinds (sunshades with a spy hole) and Satellite Dish Stickers to beautify said satellite dishes. Doesn’t that make you happy? HEMA spontaneously embraced the concept, so today it also offers headscarves and special products for the Islamic Sugar Feast. It is good to see that this popular department store evolves along with society!

HEMA has over 600 stores, primarily in Holland. In the past few years it also opened stores in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.