24 Apr 2018

How H&M is publicly trying to make amends

Sara King Moura

In a time of high levels of social awareness, brands never had to be more conscious about their strategy and approach to the market. For those that are quite off of what has been happening with H&M lately, I am here to enlighten and guide you through all the sub-consequent events – the latest ones, I must say, made me a very happy woman.

First things first, right? Brands are managed by people and as people they are, they are obviously entitled to make mistakes from time to time. Agreed? But what has been wrong with this worldwide known brand since 2010? H&M is a Swedish multinational clothing-retail company known for its fast-fashion clothing for women, men and even kids, so it pretty much covers everyone of us on earth and there is nothing wrong with that. With more than 62 countries under their sight, the mega brand has a lot to handle with, mostly when cultural differences are at sake. Besides coming from a country placed above the average in all dimensions, from environmental quality, education , work-life balance, health status to income, wealth and jobs, H&M still has managed to mess things up for them. But lets go a little bit deeper just to figure things out, shall we? Sweden has about 10 million inhabitants, and ONLY about 0,0012% is equivalent to citizens of African nation, which definitely represents a big red flag when it comes to executive roles at business and management scene.

In 2010, H&M bumped into a huge problem of corporate responsibility when people found countless bags of usable garments being throwing away with plastic hangers right in the middle of Manhattan during the one of the coldest winters ever and adding the fact of more than one third of the city is poor. The most outrageous fact was directly related with major cuts that were infringed on the clothes, just to make sure that nobody else was able to wear them. Later in 2010, H&M was caught up in a scheme of “organic” cotton fraud, increasing the suspicious on their so called “environmental efforts”. Then, right in 2011, H&M lived yet another social scandal when more than 300 Cambodian workers passed out due to poor working conditions and extremely long work shifts.

Until the incident with the child model on their website, H&M faced multiple another unfortunate events, but this last one was so scandalous and flagrant that the internet was broken once again – and this time, not by Kim K. H&M placed a black kid wearing a jumper that said “The coolest monkey in the jungle” and that was simply unacceptable. In a time where #blacklivesmatter is a true movement, H&M just proved to be completely unsynchronized with the course of society and the struggles that are currently being fought . More flagrant is the fact of H&M being able to ignore one of the fundamental guidelines to have empowering, fun and successful fashion campaigns – have a cultural diverse team, with different perspectives, styles and even social codes and ethnicity. Users on Instagram and Twitter claimed that “this why companies need more non-white diverse executives, so it is possible to  void these online disasters and accusations of ‘racist’ advertising”, which represents such a valid point.

After the major backlash online – and I mean, GIANT – the huge retailer was placed against the wall and once again, forced to watch (first row, let’s be clear) their floundering fall to the eyes of everyone that thought that H&M was unqualified to commit such a big “DON’T”. Anyhow, the global fast fashion retailer presented their apologizes and, although they did not mention it, an internal brainstorming for clearing the air was set in motion right away. Between us, they had plenty to do in a very a limited amount of time. I mean, there was such a tight margin of error that it could either break it or make it.

So, what would they do next? Should they tackle the kids segment and directly address the issue in a clear admission of their rude and, probably, racist intentions? Or should they work around the hot topic and prove to the entire world that they were pro-diversity and a socially interventional brand? They went for the second strategy, and for what it matters, they did the right thing from the Marketing and Communication point of view. Currently, it’s the women’s segment that leads the major portion of sales, so in a very straightforward and  acutely millennial orientated approach, H&M decided to go big for it’s SS18 campaign by promoting an inclusive message.

The cheerful and upbeat campaign takes place in Buenos Aires, more specifically in the historic neighbourhood of La Boca, commonly known for it’s vibrant and energetic colours and, undoubtedly for it’s curious and contagiously happy people. Starring the campaign there are,  without fail, two names that stand out from the multi diverse crowd; Naomi Shimada – the London based half japanese and proud plus size model – and Imaan Hamma – the Dutch Moroccan super model that we all have seen on Versace’s AW18 catwalk killing it with his powerful walk and sensual cat eye. There was also another co-star that proved the true creative vision for the campaign-gone-short-film, and that was Elizabeth Olsen, the Olsen twins’ sister, who had to dance with Naomi in a very intimate and trust worthy kind of connection.

But what does this mean for H&M exactly? Maybe a free pass of forgiveness or, at least, the opportunity to reborn from the ashes of their own self-inflicted damages to it’s global position. In a fresh and multi-national  casting based posture, the company placed models with different skin colours, with tattoos or with bleached shaved heads in radical and cool move towards worldwide acceptance and empathy. Nonetheless, the goal was to go even further and conquer diversity as a standard right. Naomi Shimada reclaims the power and necessity of inclusiveness and differentiation, no only in terms of castings for ads, but mainly in terms of hiring up the ladder in their companies too.

In my own my opinion, it is a marvelous fashion campaign that truly reflects the brand’s goals, but most importantly, reflects the mood that has been felt across the entire globe. Fashion today is so much more than the limited and asphyxiated bubble that once our parents felt or heard about, mainly defined by shallow interests. Fashion portrays a strong movement of democratic thoughts, beliefs and brands should use their power and relevance to do good and advocate for the higher sense of respect. But I am very much interested to see what comes along with this assertive move towards what is the current social mood. Is H&M going to fail us again? Hope not, because not sure if Millennials (since I am one of them) and Generation-Z would be willing to close their eyes again.

All the love,
Sara King Moura

Fashion Editor

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