H&M has been in the news a lot lately. It was one of the most internationally well-known chains to sign the Bangladesh Safety Agreement, and it also impressed people by casually inserting a plus-size model into its “regular” photos. Now, the company’s CEO Karl-Johan Persson has gone on the record acknowledging a lack of size diversity in H&M’s models, saying he wants to do better in the future.
Speaking to Metro US, the “young, handsome” CEO said:
We have a huge responsibility here. We’re a large company, many people see us, and we advertise a lot. I don’t think we’ve always been good. Some of the models we’ve had have been too skinny. That’s something we think a lot about and are working on. We want to show diversity in our advertising and not give people the impression that girls have to look a particular way. By and large, I think we’ve succeeded: we’ve many different kinds of models from different ethnic backgrounds. In our last campaign we had a somewhat more buxom model, and now we’re having Beyoncé, who’s a bit curvier as well. I believe that the models in our advertising should look sound and healthy. There are models who’re too thin or obviously underweight, but there are also those who’re just thin, and they’re the ones we should keep working with, as long as they look sound and healthy. We can get more disciplined, because sometimes there have been mistakes.
What’s that? A major fashion brand took responsibility for being part of the problem where women’s body image is concerned? Hell hath frozen!
He also acknowledges that it’s possible for models to be both thin and healthy, although he stumbles a little with “as long as they look sound and healthy,” as you can’t actually tell how healthy someone is by looking at them; I would have to starve myself to be a size 2, while I have friends who are that size naturally. But it seems like his heart is really in the right place, in that he does not want to “give people the impression that girls have to look a particular way.” It sounds so simple when you put it like that, yet thus far it’s proven an elusive concept for 99% of the fashion industry.
Will Mr. Persson follow through on his words and become an industry leader in size diversity? Maybe he can start by putting more non-famous women with Beyonce’s dimensions in the H&M catalog.
He also drops some knowledge about the wages of the people who make H&M’s cheap clothes, vs. the wages of the people who make expensive clothes:
It’s a common misperception that cheap brands use certain manufacturers and expensive brands use others. We’re one of 30-40 companies buying from many of our suppliers. There are apparel companies that charge their customers low prices, medium prices, and high prices. The workers’ pay is the same regardless of which company is buying. If you look at an H&M top for SEK 99 and then look at one in a different chain that costs SEK 999, many people think, “these workers are much, much better paid”. But their pay is the same. What’s interesting is not the price of the clothing item but what the company does. Don’t trust everything you see and hear in the media, don’t look at the prices. Maybe I sound cocky, but I dare promise that no apparel company in the whole world does as much as H&M. I don’t think customers have that image.
I, for one, now feel slightly better about the fact that I buy a lot of my non-secondhand clothes from this fast fashion behemoth.