H&M Lost in the Jungle

Article by Caleb Owens


Imagine sitting in a room, thinking of ways to incorporate diversity inclusion into an ad campaign. What’s a good way to show this? Let’s bring in a black model instead of all white models. Let’s explain to his mother the importance of the opportunity is to represent kids who  look like her son. Now imagine bringing in the young black model and then showing him the apparel he has to wear: a bright green sweatshirt emblazoned with the slogan, “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”  I would love to have been in the room when they came up with that conclusion: Did they expect this child to make monkey noises too?

H&M held a campaign that invited this type of rhetoric onto a brand name clothing line. Monkey has been a derogatory term used to equate a person of African descent to primates. Why would anyone give this hoodie to a young black child? Did they tell him he’s the coolest monkey in the world as well? The other hoodies worn by two white models said, “Junior tour guide,” and “Survival expert.” Are you telling me that this black boy has to be put down so much that he is naturally a monkey compared to his white counterparts?

Do you remember the Dove ad back in October? The ad showed a black woman removing her brown shirt to reveal a smiling white woman in a neat white shirt underneath. This harkens back to racist ads from the past, showing black children being bathed with soap and then washing off the black from their skin as if it was dirt, desperately scrubbing until the skin turned white and clean. I’m seeing a lot of parallels between the two ads.

Racist ads aren’t a new trend.

The H&M team that made this ad happen didn’t think that it was racially insensitive. I don’t know if I’m more appalled by that, or the fact that in order for people of color to be represented in fashion they are still shown as monkeys, dirty, or racist caricatures and stereotypes. This isn’t something that can just be swept under the rug.

Since the debacle, apologies have been dished out by H&M and sponsors have backed away. G- eazy and The Weeknd have cut all business ties with H&M. G- Eazy said during an interview on Jan. 12 with The Breakfast Club radio show, “ I was excited about H&M to put clothes all around the world and do something that I liked and was cool with, and then I saw that happened, and it was like I’m not cool with it.” If G-Eazy pulling away from H&M didn’t wake up the stylists, photographers, and creative marketing teams, who allowed this ad to be passed, I know The Weeknd did with his refusal to represent the brand any longer. He tweeted on Monday, Jan.8, “Woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. I’m deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore…”

The backlash has been incredibly satisfying and empowering. People are boycotting H&M and are refusing to buy their clothes. The only downside to this is seeing the H&M stores vandalized. Vandalizing a store doesn’t do anything to their income or anything to the corporation as a collective. It’s only making things worse for the people who work there trying to keep their store in order.

Hopefully in the future, fashion can just be diverse, creative, and unique instead of racially insensitive, horrifying, and divisive. I think that H&M, Dove, and any other huge companies are going to look at this incident and realize that they need to be culturally competent and racially sound.

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