Global fashion retailer H&M was forced to offer an apology after posting an online advertisement featuring a black child modelling a sweatshirt which read, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.”
A statement by the renowned brand read, “We sincerely apologise for offending people with this image of a printed hooded top. The image has been removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States.”
It further read, “We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do and will be reviewing all our internal policies accordingly to avoid any future issues.”
Outrage over the advertisement sparked on social media after users noticed it on H&M’s UK website. The particular hooded sweatshirt featured a young black child, while other sweatshirts from the same line were advertised on white models.
Social media users on Twitter accused the brand of racism, and even profiting from any resulting online backlash this incident may cause. One woman, who said she had worked for H&M, claimed that the Sweden-based retailer is sometimes “clueless” to issues of “racism, cultural & social challenges.”
H&M didn’t need to use a black child! They know how “monkey” has been historically used as a racial slur. I think these companies profit off of black outrage on twitter! This was intentional ?? pic.twitter.com/ycsntjpRTQ
— Tammygirl? (@Tamaraosa) January 7, 2018
How can you have that shoot and sign off on it? young black boy in “coolest monkey in the jungle” jumper…. it doesn’t look crazy to you? with the history? marketing team let this happen? H&M know better. These brands/companies aren’t slick.
— Doris Payne (@ohfads) January 8, 2018
Other users took the issue further featuring the white child, who was wearing an orange hoodie with the text “survival expert” and “junior tour guide,” next to the black one alleging that it was a deliberate move to pair those children in with their sweaters.
So the black kid gets to wear the H&M sweater with “Coolest monkey in the jungle” and the white kid with “Survival expert”. This is beyond disgusting. It’s a projection of your neocolonial thinking. You won’t see me anywhere near your shops these days @hm pic.twitter.com/5FS9HHvhKu
— big_deen (@big_deen75) January 8, 2018
However, a couple of commenters defended the brand. One believed that people who were outraged by the hoodie were “looking to be offended,” while another alleged that those same people were reading something into the sweatshirt’s message that H&M didn’t intend.
I don’t find nothing wrong with the h&m pic of the little boy I just think y’all think he look like a monkey so y’all took it wrong ?
— Leading Lady (@Beautiful_shirl) January 8, 2018
H&M have demonstrated on many occasions how diverse the are as a brand. Having worked for them I can vouch for them as a fair company.
I think the monkey top was just really careless on their part but done innocently.
— JO (@what_jo_says) January 8, 2018
Many others also called for a boycott of H&M entirely, and R&B artist The Weeknd, who earlier partnered with the retailer on a line of apparel, announced he would no longer be working with the company via a tweet which read, “Woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. i’m deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore.”
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) January 8, 2018
H&M has since removed the offending image from its website, although the sweater is still available for purchase on its UK site.
The outrage over H&M’s advertisement follows several similar incidents involving major brands in recent months. In early October, Dove apologized for “missing the mark” with a Facebook ad for body wash, which showed a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman underneath. And later that month, Nivea was accused of racism after promoting a skin cream for “visibly fairer skin” in several African countries.