By now you’ve seen the headlines and articles covering H&M’s major screw up, and if you managed to pick up anything about the cultural and social implications of their faux pas I’m sure you share in the collective outrage. SO we won’t even get into why people are angry if that’s lost on you here’s an article or two. Take a look and circle back with me to discuss how brands can avoid ending up dragged through the headlines.
The fashion industry has always been problematic in its representation of diversity. From cultural appropriation to leaving out models of color altogether the history of missing the mark is well documented (including one of my previous posts). Things get even more problematic when that lack of diversity carries itself into the brand’s corporate structure. If you have no diverse staff, no diverse leadership and all of your colorful interns are ignored and crammed into some back sample closet you are BOUND to skip merrily into a predicament like H&M’s. Pepsi also shared the same fate in it’s “Kendall Jenner and Pepsi stops violent police attacks on peaceful protesters and thus ends racism” commercial. It’s 2018 and brands can’t hide behind the “we didn’t know” excuse anymore. Advertisements like this had to pass through countless hands and appear across many Mac desktop screens before making it onto the global website. SOMEONE knew, and if no one knew, you have ALL of the wrong people employed.
Aside from the most obvious suggestion to HIRE, KEEP, and LISTEN TO diverse talent, there are many disposable and cost-effective tools at your fingertips. Here are some quick things to consider:
- Research! NDA focus groups, perform a controlled test run, survey, crowdsource ideas! People love to give their opinions and if you’ve taken any time to include diverse opinions you will get responses that red flag any of your questionable outputs. Take an extra step to prevent public disgrace and a tarnished brand reputation. Trust me you don’t want to be that racist dress brand.
- Play a quick game of compare and contrast. Would your messaging, product, or concept be as accepted by one community and it’s complete ‘opposite’ community? Does the message change if an Asian model is wearing the outfit versus a white model? If a message is offensive to one audience, can you substitute in an audience/model that it doesn’t offend? IMAGINE if H&M would have just put a little White boy in the monkey sweatshirt, arguably a different public response.
- Bonus tip! Stay clear of generally ANY JUNGLE or ANIMAL comparison when it comes to Black people. A super simple rule of thumb considering the previously conceived notion that Black people were actually animals and not human…
- As @crissles says “words mean things,” Sometimes it’s as simple as a Google guys. Google what words mean, where they come from, how they’ve been used in the past. You can search pairings like “Black people” and “Monkey” I bet that pairing would have yielded some helpful Googles prior to the launch of this idiotic campaign.
- And if with all of the resources and talent available to you, you still struggle with finding or understanding the need or application for diverse talent there are incredible organizations that can be of assistance. Groups like ColorComm serve as a resource for finding diverse talent and becoming more educated on the organizational practices needed to sustain and develop that talent.
Ideally, you won’t try to cut corners and just utilize tips and tricks to substitute the invaluable merit of just having diverse perspectives in a room. Diverse professionals are needed and valuable at ANY level of the corporate structure. Honestly, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the sweatshirt. This whole ordeal probably came down to a stylist haphazardly throwing this sweatshirt on the little boy and no one else stopping to think there might be an issue here. Mistakes happen, but I’d like to think if someone on sight at the shoot or up the chain looked like that little boy they might have thought differently about sending this one live. At any level from corporate to intern, nothing beats a living being with gut instinct and life experience.
Hiring diverse talent isn’t about meeting a quota or parading them on your website to show how progressive you are, it’s about utilizing the brilliant resources available to elevate your brand in a conscious and meaningful way. It’s 2018 and we don’t have time or space for divisive messaging that reinforces stereotypes or gives subtle nods to colonialisms’ ugly past. We don’t have time for irresponsible fashion companies, and we definitely don’t have time for sloppy H&M.