The clothing company & Other Stories is under fire after using a racial slur to describe one of its products.
A leaked photo uploaded to an internal system used the N-word as part of the name for a purple beanie hat. After employees complained about the use of the racist term, the company apologised and the managers responsible were suspended. The product has been withdrawn.
Employees told CNN Business that the issue extended beyond & Other Stories and to their parent company H&M. They described an incident several years ago where the seasonal mood board – sent out every season to provide inspiration for designers – featured the silhouette of a slave kneeling in chains.
One employee said: “There is a huge disconnect about racial identity and politics and they are truly ignorant. It’s incredibly disappointing and offensive obviously. It’s a consistent problem.” The H&M Group has said that it is aware of the incident and the image was removed from the internal presentation.
In 2018 H&M apologised for an advert that featured a black child in a green hoodie with the logo “coolest monkey in the jungle”.
& Other Stories said: “we take the use of racially offensive language extremely seriously and we understand the frustration and disappointment this situation has caused. We want our colleagues and customers to know that we value and respect all people.”
In a statement addressing the racist language used to describe the & Other Stories beanie Helena Helmersson, CEO of H&M, apologised, saying: “We take the use of racially offensive language extremely seriously. We must improve representation and continue to educate ourselves.”
The company said it would be undertaking conscious and unconscious bias training for employees, as well as increasing diversity on the management teams and the board of directors.
However, one employee said: “People don’t see [diversity] as a problem. They have so many excuses for why we’re not diverse and don’t make it a priority to be diverse or inclusive.”
In a survey of 17,000 US employees in executive management roles, 63% of people self-identified as white, 13% as Hispanic or Latino, 6% as black and 6% as Asian.
Annie Wu, chief diversity officer at H&M, said: “A lot of people have taken training but culture is also very difficult to change in a short amount of time. This has been historically a Swedish company. And we are now shifting over to being a global company but that won’t be changed just by training alone, that has to do with how we also expose ourselves to different cultures, to different people and how we really include them in everyday conversations.”
Despite fashion expressing solidarity with the black and minority ethnic community after the murder of George Floyd, there has been criticism that these have been merely gestures amid calls for more direct structural changes. As recently as last week, the fashion brand Marni was called out for using offensive colonial racial imagery in an advertising campaign.