Did H&M Hide Plus-Size Swimsuit Model Jennie?

The mystery behind the Swedish clothing company's latest marketing.

H&M is a retail giant. No, more like retail Goliath. A Swedish company, it operates more than 2,600 stores in 43 countries, employs more than 94,000 people and is the second-largest global retailer. That’s one giant corporation. So, you’d think they’d have a pretty sophisticated corporate structure, right? In researching a recent ad campaign, I wanted to get a few facts straightened out so I called H&M’s U.S. headquarters in New York. H&M New York oversees 200 stores in the States. Finding a number for them, however, was no easy task. There is none listed on their corporate website so I started with customer service until I got someone to cough up a number. When I called, it rang for a while and then went to this message:

“The mailbox you are trying to reach is full. Call again later. I’ll transfer you.”

Then, a resoundingly annoying busy signal. Lest anyone think I lack dedication, I tried this number for two days with the same result. So, I found a number for the big honchos in Sweden and called there asking for a number in New York. “Oh no, that’s Hokan’s job. Let me transfer you. Oh, he’s busy. Can he call you back?”

Sure, I answered. I’ll hang out and wait for Hokan.

Really? 94,000 employees, and I’m hanging here waiting for Swedish guy Hokan to call me back? Shouldn’t he have voicemail? I’ve heard of streamlined but if this is the model of corporate success, we here in the states better look out. Could all those bigwigs at Exxon, General Electric and Bank of America be obsolete? Redundant? Dead weight?

And the plot thickens. This all started because I was researching a news item that I had seen covering H&M’s decision to feature a “plus-size” model as the face of their new swimwear line.

Reported on Yahoo and Huffington Post and several major network sites, this is big news. Seems H&M is getting “real” about the size of the average woman (a 12 by the way, not a 2). They’ve started using size 12 mannequins in some retail locations and have hired plus-size model Jennie Runk to be the face and body of their new beachwear collection. They did so with no press announcement or any other nod to the decision—just put her in there with the skinny girls.

The media reports claimed that all you have to do is go to H&M’s homepage, click on “new beachwear” and up comes Jennie. Let me check this out, I figured, before I write wonderful accolades of praise to H&M for casually handling an issue that’s time has been coming: Real women of all sizes showcasing fashion outside of the “plus-size” section of the catalog.

Hm.com … click beachwear … nothing. Where’s Jennie? I tried swimwear, new arrivals, ladies wear. Finally, I opted for the fallback “view all.” Know where I finally found my hero Jennie? You guessed it: in the 14-to-24-plus-size section.

What the hell is going on? Was she on the homepage, the decision got lots of press and then lots of backlash, so they pulled her? Was I in the wrong site? I tried every link I could find and went through other fashion sites, always to the same end, no Jennie. Hence, the phone call to Sweden. A quick question, Hokan, that’s all I’ve got. What happened to homepage Jennie?

H&M, you’ve pulled off a stealthy, low-key marketing move that’s applauded by us size 12s all over the world! We appreciate your sensitivity to the realities of your consumer and are grateful for your inclusion into mainstream fashion! We’re proud of the bold step, taken quietly and with conviction. Just one thing, where’s Jennie? It must be one of these possibilities:

1. I’m doing something wrong, clicking in the wrong place and it’s my fault.

2. Jennie was never on the homepage, and this is a big smoke and mirrors media buzz about something that never happened. Talk about marketing!

3. The site is under construction, and Jennie will be back soon.

Could be any or all of the above, I guess. I’ll let you know as soon as Hokan calls me back.