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11 Nov, 2019 20:09

Know your abbreviations! H&M slammed for using designer’s initials that also represent violence against women

Know your abbreviations! H&M slammed for using designer’s initials that also represent violence against women

H&M is the latest brand to run afoul of obscure cultural sensitivities, with its designer collaboration tagline “I love GBV” enraging women’s rights campaigners who point out that the abbreviation also means gender-based violence.

H&M has come under fire from women’s rights advocates for the tagline used in its collaboration with Italian designer Giambattista Valli. The line includes several products – hats, jewelry, boxers – imprinted with the slogan “I love GBV,” which stands for either Giambattista Valli or gender-based violence, depending on if the reader is a fashionista or an NGO employee – and likely means nothing to vast segments of the population outside of both camps.

The tagline is an unconscionable celebration of gender-based violence, even if accidental, Human Rights Watch’s Heather Barr charged after the products were unveiled last week, demanding they be pulled from the market. The women’s rights division co-director of the well-known NGO was appalled to find the items were still available on H&M’s website on Monday. GBV is “not an obscure term,” she told Reuters.

By coming up with this line in the first place it demonstrates the lack of awareness about women’s rights,” Barr declared. “The right thing to do would have been to remove them all and apologize.”

Gender-based violence is a serious problem – according to the UN, it affects one in three women globally – but the abbreviation is not exactly common in the US or many parts of Europe, where H&M is based, outside of human rights groups like the one where Barr works.

However, H&M does serve a global clientele, and the term is more popular in Africa, south Asia and the Middle East - among those who speak English, at least. A quick glance at the company’s online store shows at least some of the “I love GBV” products for sale in countries in those regions.

We condemn any type of violence, and as a value-driven company, we believe in an inclusive and equal society,” H&M spokesman Hacan Andersson said in a statement in response to tweets criticizing its tagline. “GBV is an abbreviation of Giambattista Valli, and any other associations are purely unintentional.” They have not removed the products from the site as of Monday afternoon.

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H&M is far from the first fashion retailer to face Twitter-fueled outrage over the perceived insensitivity of a design. Big-name brands including Gucci, Prada, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana have all been attacked for violations of the unwritten laws of political correctness and forced to apologize for their transgressions.

Cultural appropriation,” apparent blackface references, and even a lack of runway diversity have all been thrown in designers’ faces as proof they do not understand social justice. 

While some of the fashion faux-pas that have made headlines in recent years are egregious enough to raise an eyebrow from anyone, others appear to be the product of disgruntled social media habitués determined to find something to be offended by. Ironically, H&M has plenty for a women’s rights group to get outraged over – Asia Floor Wage released a report on gender-based violence in the retailer’s supply chain last year – but the rage in this case seems to be limited to the kind of minor cultural insensitivity that woke rage mobs feed on.

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