Last week Åhlens, a chain of Swedish department stores with locations in most cities across the country, published its annual Christmas catalogue. On Monday, however, the store stopped production of the catalogue and removed the online version, apologizing for what some interpreted as negative racial stereotypes.
The complaints were directed at a page in the cagalogue with an image of two black figures with red lips and white clothing, made from Perler craft beads. While the cookie-cutter shapes are reminiscent of gingerbread people, critics said the figures can be seen as a degrading representation of black people.
"How could you make the decision to use Perler beads of black people with stereotypically round mouths and eyes and servant clothing as decoration? What were you thinking?" wrote one aghast customer on the store's Facebook page.
"Why does everything have to be racist? I thought they were gingerbread people," remarked another Facebook user.
The department store also received emails about the image, both from employees and customers. Within a couple of days the store released an official apology, not taking a stand on what the images were meant to represent, but announcing that the catalogue would be pulled immediately.
"These figures can be seen as defamatory representations and for that Åhlens apologizes," marketing manager Anna Stinger said in a statement.
The Christmas catalogue had not yet been released in stores but had been sent to around 650,000 Ålhen's loyalty cardholders across Sweden.
"It was at the printing firm when we were notified of this issue," information director Cathrine Wigzell told newspaper Dagens Media. "Now we are removing those pages."
Wigzell added that she doesn't know what went wrong in the production process, but that the company accepts full responsibility for the controversial image.