Within weeks of the brand opening its first stores in South Africa store, H&M found itself being called out on a lack of diversity in promotional images, by a shopper called Tlalane Letlhaku.
"Most, if not all your posters in store have no black models. Please work on that to appeal to everyone," she wrote.
@hmsouthafrica I was at your CT store.Most, if not all your posters in store have no black models.Please work on that to appeal to everyone.— Tlalane Letlhaku (@Tlaly_Branch) November 2, 2015
Letlhaku did not have to wait long for a reply.
"H&M's marketing has a major impact and it is essential for us to convey a positive image," tweeted H&M South Africa's social media team.
"We want out marketing to show our fashion in an inspiring way, to convey a positive feeling."
@Tlaly_Branch We want our marketing to show our fashion in an inspiring way, to convey a positive feeling. 2/4— hmsouthafrica (@hmsouthafrica) November 2, 2015
"We work with a wide range of models and personalities throughout all our marketing both online, outdoor and in store," they continued.
"Our marketing policy, campaign productions and work is something we constantly discuss internally and with creative professionals."
Unsurprisingly the response Letlhaku received did not go down well...
H&M are saying that they have white models *in South Africa* because they want to convey a positive image? pic.twitter.com/tJg85MNRkJ— Beyoncé Pad Thai* (@PearlPillay) November 5, 2015
I had to read that twice, this is how these big companies paint images of ethnic minorities into our heads 😒 https://t.co/TB4VEQDQNc— Tyrel (@tyrelf14) November 6, 2015
H&M have since issued the following statement to HuffPost UK Style:
"We’re sorry that the reply given by us in social media wasn’t clear enough.
"By a positive image we mean that we use a mix of models with different ethnic backgrounds in our campaigns.
"H&M is proud to be in 61 countries across the world and welcome all people inspired by fashion regardless of ethnic background, gender or culture.
"We apologise if we have upset anyone as this wasn’t our intention."
H&M South Africa also reached out to their Twitter audience to explain themselves, this time opting to include their longer message in an image rather than a string of tweets.
H&M regrets the response to a social media message that was recently aired and wishes to clarify the intention. pic.twitter.com/IybEBotudU— hmsouthafrica (@hmsouthafrica) November 5, 2015
"H&M regrets the response to a social media message that was recently aired on Twitter and wishes to clarify the intention of the message," they wrote.
"In no way does H&M state that positivity is linked to an ethnic group.
"H&M is proudly a global brand that embraces all people who are inspired by fashion, regardless of ethnic background, gender or culture.
"We wish to apologise if our message has caused offence in any way this is not the intention."
They also stated that: "Throughout the years we have worked with many models from various ethnic backgrounds in our campaigns."
Examples of models include: Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek, Kendall Jenner,Vladimir McCrary, Imaan Hammam,Liu Wen,Salma Hayek, to list a few. 4/6— hmsouthafrica (@hmsouthafrica) November 5, 2015
Currently Joan Smalls and Doutzen Kroes feature in our Summer 2015 campaign. Aya Jones will feature in an upcoming campaign. 5/6— hmsouthafrica (@hmsouthafrica) November 5, 2015
The current Balmain campaign features Jourdan Dunn and Hao Yun Xiang amongst others. 6/6— hmsouthafrica (@hmsouthafrica) November 5, 2015
H&M stated that they hoped these messages would "clarify" their stance on diversity, but their list of models has led to further debate, as women24.com point out: "Miss Kendall Jenner was named amongst this group of 'various ethnic backgrounds'.
"Kendall Jenner is white, and American. Her ethnicity is in part Scottish, Irish, Dutch, German, and Welsh.
"Is there still confusion about this or not? All of the other models listed by them are women and men of colour. So, what were they really implying here? Did they perhaps get confused with her sisters' half Armenian heritage? We don't know."