H&M pulls 'hipster' headdresses after complaints of cultural insensitivity
Published Friday, August 9, 2013 6:26AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 9, 2013 9:44PM EDT
Fashion chain H&M has removed a faux headdress from its Canadians stores after receiving complaints that the accessories were making a mockery of aboriginal culture.
Kim Wheeler first spotted the brightly coloured feathered hair bands last week at a store in Vancouver and emailed the Sweden-based company to tell them she found the headwear offensive.
Wheeler, who is an Ojibwa-Mohawk from Winnipeg, told CTV News Channel Friday that they were not appropriate, as headdresses are traditional garb worn by Indian chiefs.
“They are a sign of honour and respect and leadership, they’re not a cute accessory to be worn in a nightclub while people are dancing to music,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler refuted suggestions that the headdresses were a sign of respect.
“I appreciate where people are coming from and that they want to say ‘we’re respecting you,’ but it really isn’t,” she said. “There are other ways that we can respect our culture instead of wearing colourful faux headdresses.”
Canada-based company spokesperson Emily Scarlett told The Canadian Press the company received three complaints about the hair pieces, which were available for purchase at five stores.
Earlier this week, all 62 H&M locations in Canada were ordered to remove them from store inventory, Scarlett said.
“Of course we never want to offend anybody or come off as insensitive,” she said. “We’re always about being there for our customers.”
The pink, green and purple hair bands were part of “H&M Loves Music,” the retailer’s summer music festival fashion collection. Other items available in the collection include a wreath resembling sixties flower wear.
News of the headdress caused a stir over social media, where many users expressed anger.
“A white person wearing a headdress is racist and ignorant. Especially when they have absolutely no clue what it is for. They are not worn by Aboriginal people in a day to day situation,” wrote Facebook user Shondyl Johns.
Marcie Callewaert wrote: “It’s appropriation plain and simple. Making cash off another race’s cultural symbols is wrong.”
Others suggested there was no cultural significance to be placed on the accessory item, and that the matter was being blown out of proportion.
“I guess we should all stop wearing plaid in deference to the Scots as well and the Aboriginals should stop wearing cowboy boots,” April Lott commented on Facebook. “It is sad that people have nothing better to worry about.”
Other fashion retailers have come under fire in the past for selling items that were identified as inappropriate as mainstream clothing items.
Last year, Lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret apologized after receiving similar complaints about a fashion show that featured a runway model sporting a Native American-style feathered headdress.
Also in 2012, Urban Outfitters was at the centre of controversy for its tribal pattern gear that included such items as the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace and the Navajo Hipster Panty.
Some Native Americans expressed distaste over the items, calling them insensitive and racist. The Navajo Nation, a Native American tribe, also sued the retailer for trademark violations on the use of the “Navajo” name.