H&M stores in South Africa were on Saturday forced to close after police were forced to use rubber bullets to disperse a mob trashing the stores in and around Johannesburg, after the brand used a controversial picture of a black child.
The viral photo, which has divided opinion on social media, showed the boy modelling a green hoodie with the message ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ for Swedish fashion label H&M.
And while the hoodie and its message has been roundly criticized by number of international celebrities, the boy’s mother has said she see nothing wrong with it.
The protests were organised by the radical Economic Freedom Fighters’ party (EFF).
H&M apologised several days ago for the image which ran on its website.
“We’re deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print,” it said in a statement.
Video footage showed activists trashing displays, kicking over clothes rails and shoving mannequins.
This @hm nonsense of a clothing store arrived in South Africa with racist undertones. And now they connote that black people are monkeys, even print clothes for that. All self-respecting people in the world should boycott H&M and there should be consequences for their actions. pic.twitter.com/Q5WPjKN5YX
— Floyd Shivambu (@FloydShivambu) January 9, 2018
EFF leader Julius Malema defended the rampage, saying: “We make no apology about what the fighters did today.”
“We are not going to allow anyone to use the colour of our skin to humiliate us, to exclude us,” he added.
While consumers in several countries had called for a boycott of H&M as the picture went viral, the mother of the child model has said that she did not find it offensive.
She said the hoodie was “one of hundreds of outfits my son has modelled”, and urged people to “stop crying wolf all the time”.
Addressing the EFF store takeovers, she tweeted that “apartheid and racism has corrupted some so much that this is thought to be reasonable in response to a hoodie with the word “monkey” on it”.
More than one celebrity has cut their ties with H&M over the hoodie row.
Singer The Weekend, who had collaborated with the company, said the advert made him feel “shocked and embarrassed”.
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) January 8, 2018
He was joined by rapper G-Eazy, who had been due to bring out a clothing line with H&M in March.
“I can’t allow for my name and brand to be associated with a company that could let this happen,” the musician said.
“I hope that this situation will serve as the wake up call that H&M and other companies need to get on track and become racially and culturally aware, as well as more diverse at every level.”