H&M: This Is Why We Need Storytellers of Color

 Right: The original ad. Left: A re-interpreted version by artist  Chris Classic

Right: The original ad. Left: A re-interpreted version by artist Chris Classic

In a heightened state of political and social consciousness, it is baffling how a mega brand like H&M can somehow make the mistake of printing a wildly offensive ad. The ad, featuring a young black boy wearing a sweatshirt with the worlds “coolest monkey in the jungle”, is obviously racist. Yet somehow, it still managed to get approved into print.

This what happens when there isn’t any diversity or inclusion in the decision making table.

This faux pas cost H&M valuable celebrity partnerships. The Weeknd sent out a tweet that he will no longer work with the brand, followed by social media condemnation by LeBron James and hundreds of thousands of Twitter users threatening to boycott the company.

Not only is this mistake unacceptable, but it could have been so easily avoided.

Companies and organizations need to prioritize diversity in their leadership, and to nurture decision makers and storytellers that come from a wide range of backgrounds. It is only then can a company or brand’s story be told with the lens that is reflective of the world today: multicultural, feminist, and on the edge of a tide turning.

Companies need diversity in thought and approaches, and when it comes to storytelling, it is imperative that companies carefully select storytellers who can intuitively tap into the heartbeat of the world we live in.

Stories are powerful, and those who tell it bear the responsibility to express it with integrity, sensitivity, a deep humanity. More than ever, we need leaders and storytellers who can envision how to uplift people from the bottom up, not the top-down.

We need leaders and storytellers who can pulse with the heart of community organizers, and yet still wrap their minds around business priorities.

We need human-centered leaders and storytellers who can balance people and profit, and most of all, we need them to look like us: multicultural, feminist, and on the edge of a tide turning.

 Let’s get to work.

 

If you’re a media outlet or brand ready to tell powerful and inclusive stories, I would love to help. See my latest web series on NBC News, created with filmmaker Erica Eng, entitled “Wear I’m From”, on the subject of style and cultural identity.