Whistleblower Christopher Wylie joins fashion retailer H&M

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H&M Whistleblower Christopher Wylie joins fashion retailer H&M

Canadian who exposed data misuse at Cambridge Analytica hired as research director

The retailer said Christopher Wylie would support its work on sustainable and ethical AI. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/for the Guardian

Christopher Wylie, the Canadian whistleblower who last year exposed the misuse of data by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, has been hired by the Swedish fashion retailer H&M.

The business confirmed that it had signed a consultancy contract with Wylie, who will take the role of research director. His main focus will be “to help H&M group improve its capabilities within consumer, product and market insights. Besides that, he also supports our work on sustainable and ethical AI,” said a spokesperson for the retailer.

It comes after H&M reported its sixth consecutive quarter of falling profits, as well as an announcement in March that it had an increased level of unsold garments, worth more than $4bn (£3.05bn) in total. As a result, the company is stepping up its use of data and artificial intelligence to predict future sales and minimise such costs.

Wylie was working towards a PhD in fashion trend forecasting when he joined SCL Elections, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. He devised a method that used personal information harvested from Facebook accounts to create political and psychological profiles of users. Targeted advertisements could then be used to influence the political opinions and voting habits of those signed up to the social network. The method was found to have been used during the 2016 US presidential election.

Last November, Wylie was invited to speak at the annual Business of Fashion Voices event in Oxfordshire, where he explained that “music and fashion are the most informative [tools] for predicting someone’s personality”. He also spoke of how Cambridge Analytica had “exploited the cultural narratives that the fashion and culture industry put out”, but placed blame with the fashion industry itself for allowing such narratives to develop.

Wylie also revealed how his research had found that fans of American denim brands such as Wrangler, Hollister and Lee Jeans were found to be more likely to engage with pro-Trump messaging. Fashion labels such as Kenzo or Alexander McQueen were more likely to attract Democratic voters, he said.

Wylie had tweeted about trips to Sweden twice in the last month, where H&M’s head office is based. News of his hiring follows extensive efforts by the retailer to improve its stance on ethical and sustainable fashion.

In April, H&M will launch its latest Conscious Exclusive collection, which promotes the use of recycled materials. The group is also reported to be increasing its focus on its non-core brands such as Monki, & Other Stories, Cos and Weekday. In September, the H&M chief executive, Karl-Johan Persson, said the effects of the company’s revamp could start to be seen in sales as it developed better ways to forecast trends and prices.

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