H&M’s ‘Lady’ campaign is hypocritical, not empowering


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H&M’s ‘Lady’ campaign is hypocritical, not empowering

This is the same company who pulled plus sized clothes from their stores and used child refugee labour

Over the past week H&M have quite rightly been the recipients of praise for their Autumn 2016 ‘Lady’ campaign. It’s been lauded as an example of mainstream fashion making the effort to prioritise diversity in their advertising. A far cry from the usual emaciated fashion models with their white skin and hairless bodies, the fact that there were so many different kinds of women was pretty revolutionary.

  • Plus size women and women of colour rarely get represented in advertising, and it is almost unheard of for a trans woman to be, let us hope that this is a watershed in advertising. For this H&M must be applauded, as big brands giving a platform to marginalised groups is really important. Moreover, the actions of the women presented in this advert are also of note as they feature women doing things that are much more empowering than the prancing around a beach with a sarong kind of fashion advert.

    From a woman heading a meeting full of men (an occurrence that is pretty rare in the corporate world), to a women ‘manspreading’ on public transport, women with natural hair, cropped hair, eating junk food and going about their daily lives it is clear that this advert is not trying to sell fantasy, but a modicum of reality.

    But the more I think about, the clearer it is that this advert is just a very clever piece of PR designed to enhance the image of a brand that has been marred by its admitted use of child labour and bad press due to its limited options for plus sized women, which admittedly is all too common in the fashion world. It seems that despite the fact that H&M appears to be leading the charge when it comes to high street brands using, there is a glaring hypocrisy in its image.

    The fact remains that this is a company that uses refugee children to make their oh so affordable clothes and makes very few clothes that will fit the plus size model featured in its latest advert. In fact their 11 New York stores have just announced that they’ll be pulling all plus sized lines – in a massive step back from the body positive message championed in their Autumn campaign.

    In a post that went viral in June this year Ruth Clemens, a student who usually wore a size 14 couldn’t fit into the largest jeans H&M had to offer, a size 16. This woman was literally average size for a woman in the UK, at a 14-16 – but H&M regarded her too large to cater for, which is ludicrous. H&M is great if you are on the smaller side, they have a very large variety of clothes to choose from so why is it so hard for them to make clothes that a simply a bit bigger? The issue is that if H&M are going to claim to represent plus size women, they need to properly meet their fashion needs beyond an uninspiring corner of the shop with a limited range.

    The store have always tried to champion diversity – at least in their ads. In 2015 they were the first mainstream fashion outlet to feature a Muslim woman wearing a hijab in their advertisement. The same advert also features a boxer with a prosthetic leg, and a plus size model with the whole piece having an intentionally international flair, featuring people from all over the world and all walks of life.

    Of course it’s an amazing thing to have a brand as huge as H&M do, but it is also extremely disingenuous. If only they were being so ethical in the way they treat their workers. As every informed shopper knows, if you buy cheap clothes there is always a price to pay, except that price will be paid at the production end by the workers themselves in long hours, shocking pay and exploitative conditions.

    The fact that brands such as H&M did not take the steps to prevent something like this happening in the first place just emphasises how little priority it has been giving to the welfare of its workers.

    H&M like to make a big deal about how ethical and progressive they are, they encourage shoppers to recycle unwanted clothes and are making the effort to represent as many women as possible, but this cannot be ignored. We can’t forget that this is an advertisement, it is designed and created with the sole purpose of selling you something. That something isn’t just the clothes made by exploited children, it’s the idea that this company is actually committed to creating products that all women will be able to wear.

    The reality of shopping at H&M is far less inspiring than the adverts let on.

    A picture may speak a thousand words as this advert proved, but actions will always speak louder than these words. Until H&M behaves in the ethical way that they are promoting it makes the sincerity of this representation very hollow indeed. The issues of child labour and plus size representation may seem very different, but they originate from the same company that will say one thing and do another.