- Scott Olson/Staff/Getty Images
- Luxury fashion labels Versace and Coach stoked fury in China over the weekend after images of t-shirts which described Hong Kong as separate from China began circulating on the internet.
- On Sunday, a Versace brand ambassador announced she was stepping down in response to a t-shirt which referenced Hong Kong as separate to China.
- Donatella Versace, the company’s chief creative officer, later apologized on Twitter, saying she was “deeply sorry” for the company’s error.
- On Monday, luxury American label Coach issued an apology for a similar faux pas it made on one of its t-shirt designs, which listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries.
- Both Coach and Versace join a growing list of companies which have caused controversy on Chinese social media for their branding viewed as insensitive to a Chinese audience.
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Luxury fashion labels Versace and Coach stoked fury in China over the weekend after images of t-shirts which described Hong Kong as separate from China began circulating on the internet.
The controversy began on Sunday, after Yang Mi, a Chinese actress and singer, announced that she would be stepping down as a brand ambassador for Versace on the official Weibo account of her studio, Jiaxing Xingguang.
“Disclaimer: At any time, China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty are sacred and inviolable, and even more inseparable!” she wrote alongside an official statement.
Her notice followed controversy which erupted online over a t-shirt which referenced Hong Kong as separate to China.
— CNN Style (@CNNStyle) August 12, 2019
Hong Kong is considered to be a semi-autonomous Chinese territory and operates under a “one country two systems” rule with China since its handover from British rule in 1997. Under the rule, Hong Kong is allowed to keep its own political, legal, and economic systems separate from China until 2047.
Following the controversy, the brand published a note on Twitter signed by Donatella Versace, saying that she was “deeply sorry” for the company’s error.
“Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s national sovereignty and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it might have caused.”
The Company apologizes for the design of its product and a recall of the t-shirt has been implemented in July. The brand accepts accountability and is exploring actions to improve how we operate day-to-day to become more conscientious and aware. pic.twitter.com/5K8u3c4Dbm
— VERSACE (@Versace) August 11, 2019
On Monday, American luxury brand Coach issued an apology for a similar faux pas it made on one of its t-shirt designs, which listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries separate to China.
US fashion brand @Coach apologized on Mon for major designing errors and stressed that it respects Chinese sovereignty and territory integrity after it was found listing #HongKong and #Taiwan as countries for its products and on its website. pic.twitter.com/zKSdBvZIP4
— People's Daily, China (@PDChina) August 12, 2019
Though China considers Taiwan to be its own territory under the “One China” principle, Taipei maintains some degree of autonomy from the mainland and holds member, observer, or other status in over 50 international organizations.
In its apology, Coach said it “respects and supports China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and said they discovered “a serious inaccuracy” in the design of the t-shirt in 2018.
“We immediately pulled those products from all channels globally,” the label wrote in a note published to Twitter. “We are fully aware of the severity of this error and deeply regret it.”
— Coach (@Coach) August 12, 2019
Both Coach and Versace join a growing list of companies to have caused controversy on Chinese social media for branding viewed as insensitive to a Chinese audience.
Last year, Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana published a series of promotional videos on Chinese social media site Weibo, which showed an Asian model using chopsticks to eat pizza, pasta, and a cannoli. The videos were labelled racist by some users and sparked calls to boycott the brand.
The t-shirt controversy also highlights current tensions between China and Hong Kong, as protests have rocked the city for over 10 weeks.
What initially started as a protest against a proposed bill that would allow for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China for trial has ballooned into a fight to uphold democracy in the Chinese territory.
Police and anti-government protesters clashed over the weekend, with riot police firing tear gas at protesters across the city on Sunday. Police say protesters threw petrol bombs and bricks at officers.
Protests are expected to continue through the week, with rallies planned at the city’s airport and in front of the police headquarters on Monday night, Reuters said.