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Did H&M ‘Love Itself’ by Caving into Justin Bieber?

Two days after pop star Justin Bieber posted on his social media that he did not approve of the apparel featuring his likeness that H&M was selling on its website, the Swedish fast fashion giant on Wednesday announced it was removing all Bieber-themed items from its website.

H&M said it made the move “out of respect” for the “Love Yourself” singer’s wishes.

“Justin’s license holder has confirmed that H&M had the right contracts in place and followed all proper approval procedures for each selected design,” the company said in a press release. “Nevertheless, out of respect for Justin, we removed the products from our site and stores, and we’re working to find the best way to make use of them... We have been Justin Bieber’s merchandise partner since 2016 and we are very proud of the work we have done so far.”

On Monday, the 28-year-old Canadian phenom, who in June took a break from touring due to a syndrome which caused paralysis on one side of his face, took to social media to tell his 270 million followers, “I didn’t approve any of the merch collection that they put up at H&M… all without my permission and approval. SMH I wouldn’t buy it if I were you.”

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In a later post, Bieber wrote, “The H&M Merch they made of me is trash and I didn’t approve it. Don’t buy it,” and later, “When everyone finds out I didn’t approve any of this smh.”

H&M immediately fired back insisting it was on the correct legal and ethical ground.

“As with all other licensed products and partnerships, H&M followed proper approval procedures,” the company said.

Some wondered why H&M would make this concession if it was so certain it was in the right.

“While it seems that H&M secured licensing approval for the Justin Bieber collection, it did not get the endorsement of Justin Bieber himself. This probably occurred because Justin Bieber is somewhat removed from the process and has people or agencies who make these decisions on his behalf without consulting hum directly,” said Neil Saunders, managing director, retail of GlobalData told Sourcing Journal.

“However, it would have been savvy of H&M to ensure they had, or at least to ask if they had, the blessing of Justin Bieber,” Saunders continued. “There should be a better due diligence process in place to explore this when the name of celebrity is being used. Moreover, it would probably be wise to have agreements that a celebrity whose name is being used won’t speak out against the product.”

An H&M hoodie featuring pop star Justin Bieber from the H&M’s website on Tuesday. On Thursday H&M removed all Justin Bieber clothing from its website. (H&M Photo)

Guess recently had a somewhat similar clash with a celebrity last month when it ran afoul of mysterious street artist Banksy.

With consent from Banksy’s representation, Guess featured a display in a London store featuring Banksy’s iconic The Flower Thrower, but without approval from the artist himself.

Banksy took to Instagram to write, “Attention all shoplifters. Please go to Guess store on Regent Street. They’ve helped themselves to my artwork without asking, how can it be wrong to do the same for their clothes?” read Banksy’s post that got nearly 2 million likes.

Perhaps more notoriously, Adidas and Gap are figuring out what to do with all of the Yeezy-branded merch they cancelled after incendiary and antisemitic antics by Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, imploded the brands’ once-lucrative deals with the chart-topping “Donda” rapper. Adidas seems to be leaning towards rebranding Yeezy products though the Twitterati doesn’t seem to favor that idea. No word on how Gap will move forward.

Meanwhile, others are questioning H&M’s decision to pull the Bieber line because it begs sustainability questions, such as what will become of all this already produced clothing?

“First thought is, if H&M did follow protocol, why aren’t they showing the ‘receipts,’ so to speak. Those massive celebrity deals don’t just happen [casually]. It takes a lot of legal negotiations and lawyers to make sure everything is well documented and laid out,” Patrick Duffy, founder of sustainability nonprofit Global Fashion Exchange, said. “But now the interesting thing is, what happens to the shirts? ‘RE:BE for the holidays?’ Are we down-cycling them? Do they all get sent to developing nations and sold on the black market? Burned?”

Stephanie Benedetto, CEO of Queen of Raw, Inc., a deadstock fabric sourcing platform, said these questions need to be asked regardless of the reason for the “surplus.”

“No matter the reason why excess stock exists, there are profitable and responsible solutions. Historically the only answer has been to burn it or send it to a landfill. In the face of regulatory changes and consumer demands, this is not the answer anymore,” Benedetto said. “For the first time, enterprise organizations, like H&M, can take action automated and at scale around the world. Reuse excess stock internally, resell it externally, recycle it, or donate it. And for any action they take, they have a record and proof for ESG reporting. It’s a powerful way to turn a challenge into an opportunity. And why we partnered with H&M on the New York Circular City Initiative to address our collective future for people, planet, and profit.”

H&M did not immediately respond to Sourcing Journal’s follow-up questions regarding the fate of the garments.

Whatever happy solutions could be found on the sustainability side—perhaps Bieber could approve the pieces on condition that all sales go to recycling causes—the saga is already a stain for H&M and a reminder to all retailers to think before they release products featuring celebrities who haven’t personally endorsed the usage, even if their representation has.

“At the end of the day, H&M seems to be getting in a muddle with some of its licensed deals which is confusing for the customer and bad for the brand,” Saunders said.