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H&M pulls native-inspired headdress after customer complaints

Aug. 12, 2013 at 12:05 PM ET

Kim Wheeler, an Ojibwa-Mohawk from Winnipeg, Canada, took a photo of a headdress from H&M that she found "offensive."
Kim Wheeler / CTV
Kim Wheeler, an Ojibwa-Mohawk from Winnipeg, Canada, took a photo of a headdress from H&M that she found "offensive." The fashion retailer pulled the accessory after several complaints.

Fashioner retailer H&M said on Monday it has pulled a faux feather headdress from its American stores, following the same move by the chain’s Canadian stores last week that was prompted by complaints that the colorful hair piece was offensive to native tribal culture.

The U.S. stores were told to stop selling the item last week, H&M spokeswoman Marybeth Schmitt told TODAY.com.

“We made the decision in the U.S. to remove it after the feedback from our customers in Canada,” she said, adding that the company had not received any complaints in the U.S.

The hair accessory, which features pink, purple and turquoise feathers atop a black and white patterned band, was part of the retailer’s H&M Loves Music summer collection of clothing and accessories inspired by music festivals.

The limited edition hair accessory was sold in 30 of the Swedish chain’s 278 U.S. stores, Schmitt said. The item was pulled in Canada after several people complained.

“We received three complaints about the item and we always want to listen to our customers and their feedback,” said Emily Scarlett, an H&M spokeswoman for Canada. “Because our intention was never to offend anyone, we chose to remove it from our shelves.”

The company has 62 stores in Canada, five of which sold the item for Canadian $14.95, or about U.S. $14.50, Scarlett said. The stores that offered the hair accessory were in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

The first complaint in Canada came from Kim Wheeler, an Ojibwa-Mohawk from Winnipeg, Canada, who spotted the accessory in Vancouver.

“As a First Nations person, she found the accessory offensive to their culture,” Scarlett said.

Wheeler told CTV News Channel that headdresses are traditional garb worn by Indian chiefs, and that the H&M accessory is far from appropriate. “It’s a mockery,” she told the channel.

“They are a sign of honor and respect and leadership, they’re not a cute accessory to be worn in a nightclub while people are dancing to music,” Wheeler told the channel.

“I appreciate where people are coming from and that they want to say ‘we’re respecting you,’ but it really isn’t,” she told CTV. “There are other ways that we can respect our culture instead of wearing colorful faux headdresses from H&M.”

Through e-mail, H&M apologized to Wheeler and the other two people who complained, Scarlett said. Wheeler told the channel she was satisfied with the outcome.

Reaction to the controversy was split, with some calling H&M's apology an overreaction to just a few complaints, and others believing the company responded properly.

“Maybe we should all stop wearing clothes too in case they offend nudists,” one commenter wrote on the CTV website. “This politically correct nonsense has really gone too far. This item is simply fashion, and perhaps even complimentary to the aboriginal style. Oh, I suppose I should get rid of my moccasins too. Grow up."

Another who commented, Siobhan, called the accessory “a tacky misappropriation of a sacred headdress worn only on specific occasions by specific people.”

“I find it interesting that the ones who cry about political correctness are often those who just don't understand sacred practice/tradition of cultures outside of their own,” Siobhan wrote.

Cultural references aside, there were also those who just didn’t like the accessory for its fashion sense.

“Faux feather headdresses don't offend my cultural sensitives but they do offend my fashion sensibilities,” wrote another.

This isn't the first time a native tribal community has taken offense to a fashion item. Last Nov., Native American groups criticized a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show look — in which model Karlie Kloss wore a feather headdress, buckskin bikini and turquoise jewelry. In Feb. 2012, the Navajo Nation sued retailer Urban Outfitters, demanding it pull the "Navajo" name from products.

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