09 Nov H&M x Black
H&M opened its first store in Gauteng to some excitement around the H&M x Balmain collection. Okay, excitement is an understatement, rails were emptied and passive aggressive interactions were witnessed as people followed those with more than one item with them around the store, just in case they put it down. Even I had to get a little bit aggressive in order to get the only piece I wanted from the collection – this wool sleeveless black tuxedo inspired jacket – which I bought two sizes up so that I could achieve an exaggerated androgynous look with it.
With all the hype around and store opening, I couldn’t help but be distracted by what one can only refer to as a brand fail from H&M South Africa’s social media team. When questioned by @Tlaly_Branch who had visited the Cape Town store why “most, if not all your posters in store have no black models?” the H&M South Africa Twitter account responded rather offensively.
(Scroll to bottom to continue reading on this and my thoughts on this topic…)
Clothing Credits: Black Sleeveless Tuxedo Jacket from H&M x Balmain | Sports Bra from Nike Women | Black Pants from H&M | Watch from Fossil at Watch Republic | Sunglass from Miu Miu at Sunglass Hut | Loafers from County Road at Woolworths
As I looked around at all the out of home advertising on Sandton Drive and surrounding areas and stood in the Sandton City store, I too noticed that I wasn’t being reflected in the “positive images” being portrayed. In all honestly, I wouldn’t have been bothered had it not been for the response from H&M South Africa’s Twitter account, simply because the fashion industry has never really been lauded for racial diversity, in fact some of the models that H&M South Africa tweeted they have worked with like Naomi Campbell (see screengrab below), have spoken out against racism and the lack of representation in the fashion industry.
As a brand entering a new market, one did not expect for H&M to have shot campaign imagery with local models. As someone who works with global brands, I understand and know that this process, especially when following global directives and strategy is not as easy as one might think it is to implement. It took years for global brands like Garnier, Revlon etc to catch up to L’oreal’s usage of a local faces to “glocalize” their brand messaging and thus speak to and appeal to the market in a more relatable way.
In an ideal world, H&M would have entered the South African market using marketing material that featured more black faces, so that consumers spending money in their stores can see themselves reflected in this “positive” and “inspirational” H&M world. They didn’t do that and unfortunately for them the person or the team that put together the responses for H&M South Africa to the Twitter query around race and representation failed them dismally by “Othering” blackness and saying in a nuanced way “positive” and “inspiring” is not black.
By reasoning that, “positive” and “inspirational” is being represented in the heavily Caucasian marketing imagery currently up, H&M South Africa placed blackness in binary opposition to those attributes and in a country where the majority of the population is black, that brand communication fail is one that I am glad to see on social media is still being discussed by consumers and the public.
The notion of otherness in popular culture should not be ignored. What we consume, what is put out there on television, by brands, their advertising and marketing campaigns both reflects and influences people’s sense of identity, because popular culture is after all the culture of people. It’s what we are doing, what we are consuming, how we see ourselves and each other, what we aspire to and our collective and individualistic perceptions. If a 12 year old black girl in South Africa is standing in H&M and all she sees is blonde and white and is told that is what positive and inspirational is – that is what she is going to believe.
P.S: I see Joan Smalls is featured in the summer 2015 campaign but she is basically the same colour as Doutzen Kroes in the images.