H&M is getting a company makeover including cultural initiatives, an increase of diversity in its staff and its new North American Head of Inclusion and Diversity — Ezinne Kwubiri.
PHOTO: BN Style
Kwubiri is stepping into a role that is the first of its kind for the major clothing retailer. One of its continuous efforts to recover from the backlash the company received last year after an insensitive ad went viral, which pictured a young Black boy in a "coolest monkey in the jungle" hoodie. H&M responded to the incident with this statement:
“We sincerely apologize for offending people with this image of a printed hooded top. The image has been removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States. We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do and will be reviewing all our internal policies accordingly to avoid any future issues.”
Fast forward to today, H&M hopes Kwubiri’s presence will be another step in the right direction in terms of inclusion and celebrating diversity. She recently spoke to Business of Fashion to share her hopes for the future and her role as a change-agent.
PHOTO: Business of Fashion
“One of our values at H&M is constant improvement and we really mean it. These challenges and opportunities are bigger and more important than one incident.”
Kwubiri says that H&M knows they made a mistake and are still growing from that moment. They will continue to move in a positive direction and they plan to do so by keeping these things in mind:
“We want to know what does real representation really look like at a global scale retailer? How do people feel when they’re walking through the door and how do they feel while working here?”
Within the next couple of months, Kwubiri says she hopes consumers will see the company is being intentional with its actions. Kwubiri will be reporting directly to the president of H&M North America and will work in tandem with the global head of inclusivity and diversity in Stockholm.
“I see myself as the new blood, the new person in the office that is coming with a fresh perspective. I want to challenge the mindset across the board, from the way we do our promotions, to our hiring process, to how we interact with our employees and customers, as well as their communities— who all deserve our support and celebration.”
When asked what H&M is looking to do to ensure positive representation in future, Kwubiri said the company does not want to take on the task simply based on reaction, but with data that can help them make logistical choices that represent a whole.
“… we’ve partnered with external consultants in order to provide further demographic data and launched a series of focus groups that we’ve conducted with our customers as well as internally. This is to take the temperature of the brand, to see how people feel when they think about H&M and see this in data we can use to create positive change… We are looking specifically at race, gender, age and sexual orientation, as well as disability and many other areas. For the US, we are seeking to do three things, to educate and raise awareness, to become better advocates for the communities we are a part of, and finally to challenge the status quo and accepted mindset about how we achieve things.”
In terms of the community, Kwubiri says H&M is looking to become better advocates for those within their local communities by not just doing a good job, but by knowing the markets/communities they work and serve in.
“I want to make sure that when someone thinks about H&M, that they know truly what we stand for. From the kind of company that we are to the diverse and inspirational individuals we both employ in the company and empower in the community. The company buy-in behind these projects goes all the way to the top and stretches throughout the organisation.”
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