Hennes & Mauritz AB has started 2018 at the center of an embarrassing controversy after the Swedish clothes retailer published an ad showing a black child modeling a hoodie with the text “coolest monkey in the jungle”.
The company has pulled the garment in question from its stores and apologised. H&M also said it agreed with those who were upset by the image, which appeared in its online store. The image caused a social-media storm and prompted the Canadian artist, The Weeknd, to end his collaboration with the Stockholm-based company.
“We are deeply sorry that the picture was taken and we also regret the actual print,” H&M said. “Therefore, we have not only removed the image from our channels, but also the garment from our product offering globally.”
The controversy comes at a sensitive time for H&M. Its shares slumped more than 30 per cent last year amid a disappointing sales development in its physical stores, and analysts slashed their ratings in response. Some 51 per cent of analysts now advise clients to sell the shares, the biggest proportion of negative ratings since at least early 2003, according to Bloomberg data.
In a note on Tuesday, Danske Bank cut its price target on H&M, citing pressure on sales. Danske sees H&M shares trading at 152 kronor 12 months from now, compared with its previous estimate of 167 kronor. It’s advising clients to sell the shares.
The Weeknd, as Abel Makkonen Tesfaye calls himself, said in a statement on Twitter that he “woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. I’m deeply offended and will not be working with H&M anymore.”
NBA star LeBron James posted a revised version of the photo with the child wearing a king’s crown on his Instagram feed, telling H&M “you got us all wrong! And we ain’t going for it!”
“We as African Americans will always have to break barriers, prove people wrong and work even harder to prove we belong,” James wrote.
Rapper and music producer Sean “Diddy” Combs also re-purposed the photo on Instagram replacing the reference to “monkey” with the words “coolest king in the world.”
H&M and other fast-fashion retailers have come under fire in the past for similar mishaps. Inditex SA’s Zara clothing chain was criticized in August 2014 for selling a striped kids’ sheriff t-shirt resembling the uniforms worn at concentration camps during the Holocaust, which it withdrew from production, and a swastika-decorated handbag was removed from Zara’s stores in 2007. H&M in 2014 pulled a tank-top with a human skull inside a Star of David.
“It’s obvious that our routines have not been followed properly,” H&M said of the monkey hoodie. “This is without any doubt. We will thoroughly investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake again.”