Ashley’s Pride & his story of going beyond
Going Beyond the Rainbow with H&M Project Manager Ashley Wright
“Pride is by default inclusive and open, and it’s a global community, you are connected even if you never met. It’s up to each individual to choose how they connect with the community. You are not expected to be a warrior, and I am not out there protesting every week. But I stand up for the community when I feel the need and I have a role to play.”
Ashley Wright is one the heroes in this year’s H&M Pride campaign, ‘Beyond the rainbow’. A global campaign which runs from June until September to cover the different Pride periods across the world. In addition to a number of co-workers at H&M, The campaign features the likes of Mj Rodriguez, Joaquin Bondoni and Chella Man.
The campaign aims to peel back the bright colours usually associated with Pride celebrations, and instead reveal the powerful stories of diversity behind every rainbow flag. It hopes to inspire people to share their own stories and in a way create an online Pride parade of stories.
For Ashley, this was the first time he shared his Pride journey on such a massive scale — his story has already been viewed by millions around the globe. But becoming more of a public figure was never a restraint for Ashley. If anything, it made it more important for him to be part of the campaign.
“It takes a level of bravery. You know, I have pretty thick skin. I understand not everyone does, and that’s also completely ok. But for me personally, it wouldn’t hold me back. There will always be people who go straight to the negative. If you focus on that, you can never go forward with anything. We need to use the same platforms to spread the positive. We shouldn’t let the negative people win.”
Ashley also happens to be a Project Manager at H&M, based in Stockholm. He has been with the company for ten years, starting in the UK as Visual Merchandiser before moving to Asia – China, Singapore and Hong Kong. He wasn’t looking specifically for a role in H&M at the time he joined, but still remembers what drove him to the company.
“Believing in people is a big part of H&M. I felt it from the start of the hiring process, and then later when I took on the role, and it is still there now. It’s very important for me, being part of an inclusive and open work environment.”
Ashley describes the role in visual merchandising as setting up and managing the experience for the customer in the store through building the windows, styling mannequins, product placement and everything else that goes on, securing a positive experience for customers visiting the store.
In his current role he works in commercial planning and communication globally, looking at internal communication and materials from the function and how it is communicated towards the markets. With the sheer amount of information sent to the markets and campaigns being rolled out any given year, Ashley has a critical role in ensuring everything runs according to plan.
But his latest role at H&M had a different kind of importance. The decision to be part of the Beyond the rainbow campaign wasn’t made overnight and involved a level of self-reflection.
“The process made me really think about my history and how I have dealt with it. I thought that maybe it would be a good thing for me personally, to get it out. Through my story I can help others and show that if I got through this, so can you. And that is important. I can help others, now and in the future. When I pulled all of those thoughts together I felt, yes this is something I have to do.”
Ashley has had people contacting him asking if they could be part of the campaign, as well as asking more about his story. Several people even asked if he is a professional actor and model.
“It was a very positive experience. Everyone made a big effort to make sure I was comfortable. There was no pressure. I could dress the way I liked and say what I wanted. Nothing was scripted, and that was important. I didn’t even know what it would look like or what would be included until afterwards.”
Participation was done during work hours, but wasn’t otherwise compensated.
“This is not about personal gain, it is about the community. Even if I was paid I wouldn’t want it. There is also another perspective to it, and that is being part of a company that has the courage to do this type of campaign and that I want to be part of and represent.”
Apart from reaching people in the LGBTQIA+ community, Ashley’s participation has also received a lot of internal attention, opening doors to new conversations.
“Reception has been really good also from people I don’t even know. I have heard positive comments from both colleagues and family. It has reached people. Just the other day, someone I don’t even know came up to me in the lunch room at my H&M office and said that I don’t know them but they had seen me in the campaign and that it really touched that person. Comments like that and the conversations around the campaign has made it worthwhile many times over.
“This is a long battle, it is not over this year or next or any time soon. And for me the opportunity to be part of something positive was important. If I was asked to do it again, I would. Pride is an ongoing thing. I’m very happy to be part of it. It makes me proud. It is a fight, and it goes on, and I am part of it. It’s a good feeling.”