'Coolest monkey' advert - lessons learnt by H&M

01 November 2018 - 16:41 By Ernest Mabuza
Oldouz Mirzaie‚ H&M country manager for South Africa‚ said removing the hoodie ad was not enough.
Oldouz Mirzaie‚ H&M country manager for South Africa‚ said removing the hoodie ad was not enough.
Image: SAUL LOEB / AFP

Global fashion retailer H&M has conducted workshops to address the “disaster” following a racially-sensitive advertisement by the company.

An image of a black boy modelling one of H&M’s hoodies with the slogan “Coolest monkey in the jungle” was posted on their online platform in January.

What followed was widespread anger by the H&M customers‚ the general public and even their own employees.

The advert was immediately removed and the offending garments were removed from outlets‚ but this did not stop some EFF members from damaging some of H&M’s shops in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Oldouz Mirzaie‚ H&M country manager for South Africa‚ said removing the hoodie ad was not enough.

“It became clear to us that our usually high standards have failed us. They were not met‚” Mirzaie told the Anti-Racism Network SA annual conference on Thursday.

She was explaining what steps the company had taken to move on from a campaign which had stoked racial tensions in South Africa and abroad.

Mirzaie said questions were raised after the incident about whether H&M was a racist company.

“Our position was and still is very clear: this was a big mistake and we simply got it wrong‚” said Mirzaie.

She said after the outcry‚ the company had met organisations including the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR).

She said although the company had over 170‚000 employees from diverse backgrounds worldwide‚ it recognised the need to increase awareness and education across the organisation‚ not just in terms of what met the eye but also diversity in terms of thoughts and perspective.

“Locally‚ we have had collaborations with the IJR where diversity and inclusiveness workshops were carried out in May and August‚” Mirzaie said.

She said the workshops were for the entire management group in South Africa‚ including store managers‚ assistant store managers and all regional teams.

Mirzaie said another commitment following the incident was that the company’s global marketing teams needed to work with local South African black-owned marketing and creative agencies.

She said two local advertising campaigns were launched in collaboration with a local creative agency.

Mirzaie said the company had committed to manufacture some of its products in South Africa and had also entered into a collaboration with a South African fashion designer.

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