H&M South Africa’s shockingly-bad response to customer request

Recently, Tlalane Letlhaku was shopping at an H&M store in Cape Town, South Africa and noticed something missing in their store advertisements.  She decided to reach out to the to company, via Twitter, to express the following:

@hmsouthafrica I was at your CT store.Most, if not all your posters in store have no black models.Please work on that to appeal to everyone.”

The response she got back from the company’s official Twitter account raised a few eyebrows.  In a series of Tweets, the company said this:

“H&M’s marketing has a major impact and it is essential for us to convey a positive image. We want our marketing to show our fashion in an inspiring way, to convey a positive feeling. We work with a wide range of models and personalities throughout all our marketing both online, outdoor and in store. Our marketing policy, campaign productions & work is something we constantly discuss internally * with creative professionals.”

The response seemed to imply that it had excluded black models in order to convey a “positive image”.  As a result, H&M found itself have to apologize and do a little damage control.  This included listing off black models they had used in past campaingns and issuing an apology.

“H&M regrets the response to a social media message that was recently aired on Twitter and wishes to clarify the intention of the message. In no way does H&M state that positivity is linked to an ethnic group. H&M is proudly a global brand that embraces all people who are inspired by fashion, regardless of ethnical background, gender or culture. We wish to apologise if our message has caused offence in any way as this is not the intention.”

This incident happened just as the fashion chain is set to open a store in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Perhaps the company might want to, at least, bring onboard a diversity consultant or risk putting out another tone-deaf response like the one that caused this debacle.

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