2018 might be the year when fast fashion giant H&M commits suicide. First, it went under fire on January 7 when Twitter users noticed the offensive styling of a particular set of animal-themed hoodies. A hoodie bearing the slogan “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle” was styled on a young black child, while the other two were worn by white children. The Internet went ablaze and celebrities, such as The Weeknd, ended partnerships with the brand. Now, the company has enraged a worldwide community of artists for issuing a lawsuit against street artist Jason “Revok” Williams.
In early fall, H&M selected a handball court in the William Sheridan Playground in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as the location for its upcoming fashion photoshoot. As reported by The New York Times, a production firm that H&M had hired sent a letter to the city’s parks department asking if it needed to pay royalties to use the graffiti in the background in an advertising video. The official from the department responded the same day that the city had not sanctioned the mural and that she had no idea who painted it. So H&M shot the footage using the mural in the backdrop. The artist, Jason Williams, saw it within months.
This is the picture of the mural Williams shared on his Instagram account:
In January, Williams’s lawyer, Jeff Gluck, sent H&M a cease-and-desist letter, which claimed that the fashion retailer had benefited from the artist’s work without his approval and threatened legal action if a settlement was not reached. H&M’s lawyers wrote back saying that they didn’t need Williams’s permission since “his graffiti was created through criminal conduct.” On Friday, March 9, they filed a suit alleging that Williams had no rights to his own piece of art and that H&M should be able to use the mural for free.
Some journalists wrote that this lawsuit could have changed copyright law. NYTimes asked: “Does a mural painted illegally in a public park in Williamsburg deserve the safeguards of federal copyright law?”
In November, for example, a jury found that a New York City real estate developer broke the law in 2013 when he tore down the 5Pointz complex in Queens, destroying nearly 50 colorful murals. The judge awarded 21 graffiti artists with $6.7 million dollars.
After a widespread outcry and calls for a boycott, H&M issued an apology and claimed on Thursday, March 15, that it has dropped its lawsuit against the artist. “H&M respects the creativity and uniqueness of artists, no matter the medium. We should have acted differently in our approach to this matter. It was never our intention to set a precedent concerning public art or to influence the debate on the legality of street art,” the company said.
Either way, people are outraged and say they will never shop at H&M again.
The Swedish company plans to shut 170 stores this year. Its shares fell as much 9.1 percent to a nine-year low in Stockholm. They have lost more than a quarter of their value in the past several months, bringing H&M’s market value to 235 billion kronor ($29.9 billion), which is about a quarter of what Zara owner Inditex SA is worth. H&M has been the world’s No. 2 fashion chain by sales, but its operating profit fell 14 percent to 20.6 billion kronor, the biggest drop in six years.
The company is soon launching Afound, a marketplace selling discounted fashion and lifestyle products. The retailer said it would invest more in online sales and add shops in markets that are still growing.
While doomsday might be coming for H&M, AdAge reported that according to executives, the company’s other brands, such as Cos and & Other Stories are doing well.
We will continue updating this story as more information becomes available.