On the 11th September H&M released an ad claiming that it redefined the meaning of being ladylike titled ‘H&M New Autumn Collection 2016’.
The video depicted a series of women in admittedly realistic situations (at least in my own experience) of all shapes and sizes, shaven and unshaven, working and socialising and generally acting in a way that H&M claims to be the new ‘ladylike’. Set to a cover of ‘She’s a Lady’, the video is a clear attempt at creating a feminist persona for the company.
The caption on YouTube reads “Entertaining, opinionated, off-beat and fearless. Bad-ass, independent and free-willed… please use the hashtag and share what being #Ladylike means to you.” Certainly a hopeful advertisement and turn towards diversity and feminism in the fashion industry. Or so we think?
As Patrick Winn detailed in his article for the global post in 2015, H&M has based many of its factories in Cambodia where women work for around 50 cents (£0.40) an hour and conditions are less than humane, some reports detailing that women are fired simply for being pregnant and that up to one third of the employees in a given factory are children.
On Jezebel.com, Finnster explains in a well written article that the workers Union C.CAWDU (Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union) has taken proof to H&M of mistreatment within factories, the company responding by negating any responsibility. Finnster tells us that this is possible by using a ‘parent factory’ which employs a series of smaller factories where conditions can be less than satisfactory – the brand employing the parent factory will be far away enough from the malpractice to avoid association. Ironically, one of H&M’s parent factories is called ‘Dignity Knitters’.
With several papers and social media outlets quick to jump on the bandwagon, essentially calling H&M a pioneer of feminism, we have to consider whether or not H&M is in a position as a company to make these statements. It certainly is refreshing to see more inclusive content on our screens but the hypocrisy involved leaves a sour taste; they’re aiming to make money from people who support women’s rights while undermining their beliefs behind the scenes. Perhaps this is even a step back: H&M has taken away the gravity of the issues surrounding feminism and reduced it to a marketable and saleable trend. “Bad-ass, independent and free-willed” we may be, but their factory workers are not and that is the fundamental issue with the advert we saw released on the 11th.