Georgina Guedes

How H&M offended black (and white) Twitter

2015-11-06 13:50

H&M responded to a query about the dearth of black models in their displays by saying that they want their models to “convey positivity”. Here’s how Georgina Guedes thinks they should have responded.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I attended a friend’s wedding in London. And I went shopping. In London. At H&M. And I bought lots of beautiful things. Because they were cheap and funky.

At that point, I didn’t know whether I was having a boy or a girl, but the H&M kids section was such fun that I could buy T-shirts with animal prints or little fur onesies with bear’s ears without worrying about gender. They were quality threads – and after my daughter, my son wore those same little outfits.

So, when I heard that H&M was going to be launching in South Africa, I was delighted. Although I have seen that “affordable” European stores are often priced as high-end stores here, so I wasn’t convinced I was going to be seeing the same kinds of bargains.

A friend who went to the opening said that they really are affordable – so I will totally be there as soon as the crowds die down.

But where are the black models?  

Unfortunately, H&M failed to anticipate that instead of ebullient reports of the cost and quality of their wares, they would be facing a social media scandal in the wake of their opening. The scandal unfolded when a Twitter user questioned them about a launch in Africa with very few African models featured in their in-store displays.

And this is where H&M mistweeted.

Whoops!

I am pretty sure that H&M didn’t mean to imply that black models might not convey a positive image or positive feeling, but unfortunately, by using two of four tweets to try and slip in a bit of a promotion about how ra-ra their marketing is, it seemed as if that’s exactly what they were saying.
And of course, Twitter went bananas.

So then, H&M listed piles of black models that they’ve worked with. You know, because they have. So why is Black Twitter getting so bent out of shape?

And then later that night, they issued an apology. Sort of.

“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 a proudly global brand that embraces all people who are inspired by fashion, regardless of ethnic background, gender or culture. We wish to apologise if our message has caused offence in any way as this is not our intention.”

Sorry that you got upset…

As “no-pologies” go, this is a pretty good one. They are sorry the response to their tweet – not for the tweet itself. That’s like apologising that someone got cross when you insulted them, rather than apologising for insulting them – even if they misunderstood. H&M, you don’t get to apologise for how someone else responded; you get to apologise for your actions.

Then at the end, they apologise “if their message has caused offence”. Well, it did. Don’t apologise “if”, apologise “for”.

Someone on a Facebook group posted a great formula for of how to apologise properly:

01. I’m sorry for.../I apologise for.../I feel really bad about...
02. This was wrong because.../It made you feel.../I wish I hadn’t because...
03. Next time.../In the future, I will...
04. Will you forgive me?

Don’t boycott them, but let’s hope they’ll learn

But here’s the thing. While H&M handled the question and the subsequent feedback badly, we’re still going to shop there (when the crowds died down). And I really don’t think that they meant that black people don’t convey positivity – not really.

However, the issue remains the same – if you are going to be promoting your wares to a country in which a staggering majority of the population is black, how about “conveying positivity” using models that they can relate to or that represent them? Rather than apologising for how the black people of Twitter responded or how you were misunderstood, take their criticism to heart and try to do better next time.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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