Fast fashion giant Zara, which apologized last year for listing Taiwan as an independent country on its website, has again found itself caught in the vortex of China-related political controversy over Hong Kong, where protests have been escalating for months.
On September 3, the apparel retailer issued a statement (in Chinese) on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, saying that as a “long-term advocate” for the “one country, two systems” policy, it “fully endorses China’s territorial integrity.”
The statement came as an official response to mounting doubts from mainland China regarding the brand’s stance on China’s territorial disputes. The skepticism started to grow as people found out that Zara closed four Hong Kong stores on September 2, when a large-scale strike took place across the city, involving hundreds of shops, schools, and offices.
In an attempt to debunk speculations that the closure was in support of the strikes, Zara explicitly said in the Weibo post that it never sided with the strikes’ participants. To further distance itself from the political crisis that has been unfolding, it said, “We never made any remarks or engaged in any behavior about the strikes.”
Zara’s clarification quickly became a trending topic on the Chinese internet. On Weibo, hashtag #zarastatement# (#zara声明#) has amassed more than 300 million views and about 14,000 discussions as of Tuesday afternoon.
While most internet users approved of the clothing retailer’s statement, a significant number of people remained doubtful and demanded that Zara further explain why it shut down some of its stores on that specific day. In response, Zara said on Weibo that while many of its locations in Hong Kong delayed opening on Monday due to the “uncertainty of public transportation,” all Zara stores in Hong Kong opened eventually yesterday.
Still, there is a cluster of people on the Chinese internet who refuse to let Zara off the hook. According to them, the brand’s latest statement came off as flimsy and inadequate given that a little over a year ago, Zara had to issue a public apology after suggesting that Taiwan is a separate country from China.
In an editorial commentary (in Chinese) published by the Global Times yesterday, the nationalist rag slammed Zara for “sending perplexing signals” regarding the “violent riots” in Hong Kong. “There are many international brands that have locations in Hong Kong but Zara was the first to be suspected of supporting the strikes. Regardless of the cause of its blunder, Zara set a negative example,” the newspaper wrote.
As the protests in Hong Kong raged on, Zara is neither the first, nor the only, foreign business to pick a side on contentious issues concerning Chinese sovereignty and its territorial claims in the face of palpable pressure from mainland consumers. Last month, a string of international retailers and fashion houses, including Italian luxury fashion house Versace and American fashion brand Coach, found themselves in apology mode after being blasted for disrespecting China’s national sovereignty in their products or on their websites.