David Jones apologises for poor response to complaint about black model

David Jones expands private label suite, but what will happen to smaller suppliers?

By Susannah Guthrie. 

David Jones has apologised after it was criticised for its “not ideal” response to a customer who complained about the department store’s use of a black model in its latest beauty catalogue.

In a post on David Jones’ official Facebook page that has since been deleted, customer Elizabeth Ballard said she was “disappointed” by the cover of the summer beauty catalogue featuring South Sudanese-born model Adut Akech.

“Although I think your use of the beautiful black model is very attractive, I don’t feel it represents the general population of Australia,” Ms Ballard wrote.

“How on earth am I expected to relate to this cover? I can’t wear ANY of her makeup, I don’t know ANYONE who looks like her.

“You people have really missed the mark here and I’m pissed off and sick of big companies going for the minority feel good. Think of your shoppers next time.”

Elizabeth Ballard’s original Facebook post.

Ms Ballard’s post triggered a backlash from people accusing her of being racist, but it was David Jones’ response that drew the most ire.

Rather than condemning Ms Ballard’s take, the retailer responded that it had passed her complaints on to the marketing department.

“Hi Elizabeth, we are sorry you feel this way,” the store’s response read.

“We have passed your feedback on to our marketing department for their information and consideration.”

Seventeen-year-old Ms Akech, who came to Australia at the age of six as a refugee from war-torn Sudan, acknowledged the store’s response was “not ideal”.

A spokesperson for David Jones told The New Daily it regrets the use of a “standard response” that was easily misinterpreted.

“We have not, and will never, apologise for representing the diverse make up of the Australian community in our marketing materials or campaigns,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“The initial response to this Facebook post was a standard response, given by a customer service representative without enough thought as to how it could be misinterpreted, and we acknowledge this response was not appropriate in this context.

“We are proud of the cover and the talent used for our Spring Summer 2017 beauty catalogue and the variety of Australians represented on our catwalk.”


Ms Akech, who is currently attending high school in Adelaide, told The New Daily she was mostly unfazed by the controversy.

“I certainly appreciate everyone is entitled to their opinion and although the initial generic response from DJs was not ideal I’m confident David Jones have since addressed the issue with the sensitivity it deserves,” Ms Akech said.

“I absolutely loved working with David Jones and have shopped there since I was a child so love the fact they acknowledge the diverse nature of their customer and am proud to be a part of their campaign.”

Martin Walsh, who runs Ms Akech’s agency Chadwick Models, described the teenager as “an adorable, terrific girl” who’s not “bent out of shape” by the comment.

“Their [David Jones’] initial response was quite generic. To me I don’t think they were apologising [for using Ms Akech], they were just sorry she [the customer] felt that way,” Mr Walsh said.

It’s unlikely the furore will slow Ms Akech’s swift rise to the top of the modelling world – she will appear in the 2018 Pirelli calendar, has shot campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent and walked in shows at this year’s Paris Fashion Week.

Ms Ballard, meanwhile, has deleted her Facebook profile, presumably due to the backlash her original comment generated.

This piece was first published by The New Daily. You can read it here.


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John Hutchinson
John Hutchinson
4 years ago

Displays just how thing skinned and presumptive we are. Ms Ballard comments weren’t racially motivated at all, and quite frankly is actually constructive criticism of the Marketing Department at DJ’s and their response was actually quite correct. Ultimately the catalogue is published to generate sales and stimulate interest. I think it misses its mark too. The model isn’t even adorned with anything you can purchase from DJ’s.

4 years ago

I am happy to patronise a company that can do something different and generous. Ballard’s comment was sour me-first.
You can see Asian and African models every day with Woolworths and others. Sure Woollies know what they are doing.

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