#135 H&M blunders in South Africa

In January 2018, Swedish global fashion retailer H&M had closed several of its stores temporarily. The move was necessary to protect its employees, prevent damage to its stores, and stop further protests. What had happened? For a short while, H&M’s online store carried hoodies with a variety of slogans. One of the images showed a black child wearing one of the hooded sweatshirts that said “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” Although H&M was quick to denounce racism and apologiz to the public, the damage had already been done. Politicians of South Africa’s second-largest opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, were quick to exploit the situation for their own purposes, and gathered protesters at various H&M stores where mannequins were toppled, racks overturned, and merchandise scattered. It’s hard to imagine that anyone at H&M intended to be racist. It is more likely that H&M simply took its eyes off the ball for a moment, and blundered badly out of carelessness. In a wider context, it might also be that what happened is a byproduct of globalization. In a time when global competition is cutthroat, when product development and shipping cycles get shorter and shorter, and where scale is reached through maximum global standardization, it’s not easy to understand all nuances in international markets and to make quick adaptations. Unfortunately, in this case, it was more than a nuance, and it’ll take quite a bit of effort and time for H&M to rebuild good will.

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