Fashion homage or chutzpah?

H&M issues apology for khaki jumpsuit in recent collection said to exploit aesthetic of Kurdish female fighters

Ayesha Shaikh/news Desk October 10, 2014

Journalist Tom Wolfe’s concept of radical chic has permeated global fashion in how industry frontrunners are taking up the role of ‘frivolous’ political agitators, indulging in the affectation of prevailing isms through their clothing lines.

But this may be a lopsided argument, considering that the Aristotelian man is political and, as such, may draw inspiration from political crises for creative expression. Sparking debate on what constitutes ‘homage’ and ‘chutzpah’ is fashion powerhouse H&M, who recently issued an apology for a khaki jumpsuit in its Autumn/Winter collection.

Pictured above are the uniform worn by Kurdish female fighters. PHOTO: AFP

The Swedish retail giant has been accused of capitalising on the aesthetic of Kurdish female fighters, who are battling the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces, reported Known for bringing high-end runway fashion to the masses at affordable prices, H&M sold the army-inspired, loose-fitted olive green khaki jumpsuit for nearly $20.

But the piece was not received well by netizens, especially Kurds, who drew a comparison between the jumpsuit and the uniform worn by women serving in the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). What could simply be H&M’s rendition of the trending feminine spin on military cuts was considered as an insolent act of indirect war profiteering by the brand. “It’s terrible that H&M use the ISIS war against Kurds to make money,” wrote Swedish activist Kristofer Lundberg.

Succumbing to the pressure, H&M issued an apology, but denied the accusations, reported the Daily News. “We are truly sorry if we have offended anyone with this piece. This was, of course, never our intention,” H&M’s global press officer Ida Stahlnacke said in a statement, the Foreign Policy: Passport reported. “At H&M, we want to offer the latest within fashion and trends and we continuously listen to our customers’ requests.”

Stahlnacke clarified that the expansion of the jumpsuit range was done on popular demand, with pieces also available in denim blue and deep red. She added that the jumpsuit in question was “part of a larger collection consisting of many garments in khaki green, which is also one of the trendiest colours of this season,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

There have been polarised comments on the inclusion of the jumpsuit in the collection. Some have rebuked it as H&M “reducing the struggle of [Kurdish women fighters] to a fashion garment that white women in the West can wear to their next occasion,” as argued by Kurdish commentator Sandra Sasvari.

But some consider it as an introduction of “Kurdish culture to the world,” as a Kurd, Hedy Brime, wrote. Interestingly, following the H&M controversy, a self-proclaimed former diplomat Azos L Rashad took a jibe at the United States for its efforts to neutralise ISIS with airstrikes. “In the last 24 hours, H&M has done more for the Kurdish cause with their women’s Peshmerga fashion line than all of #NATO put together,” he tweeted.

Kurdish female fighters have recently been glorified for their courage and resistance against the ISIS forces. On Sunday, a Kurdish fighter named Ceylan Ozalp, who ran out of ammunition, shot herself with her last bullet when she was surrounded by ISIS militants, reported Al-Arabiya News. Another female Kurdish fighter carried out a suicide bomb attack against members of ISIS, killing a number of them who were attempting to seize the Syrian city of Kobane.

This is not the first time that H&M has been in the crosshairs over its collections. Earlier this year, the brand removed a controversial vest from its shelves after the piece, which depicted an image of what looked like a Star of David with a skull inside it, was called anti-Semitic, the Washington Post reported. In 2013, it was in the spotlight for carrying a feathered headdress, which some Native Americans deemed offensive.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2014.

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