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Lululemon faces China boycott over ‘bat fried rice’ shirt

Canadian athleisure brand Lululemon has upset Chinese consumers after its global art director, Trevor Fleming, promoted a “Bat Fried Rice” shirt on his personal social media account. While Lululemon quickly apologized and fired Fleming, many Chinese internet users have called for a boycott of the apparel retailer.

The controversy started on April 19 when Fleming shared an Instagram post advertising the offending item. Featured on the back of the long-sleeved white T-shirt was a graphic of a Chinese takeout box with two bat wings and the words “No Thank You.” On the front, there is a pair of chopsticks also with bat wings attached. The shirt, called “bat fried rice” and priced at $60, was designed and sold by California-based artist Jess Sluder.

In a now-deleted Instagram post describing the item, Sluder wrote, “Where did COVID-19 come from? Nothing is certain, but we know a bat was involved.”

Almost immediately, criticism of the design and Fleming’s use of social media to promote it spread on the internet. On Twitter and Instagram, under the hashtag #boycottLululemon, the product was denounced as inflaming anti-Asian sentiment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pictures of the offending item also made their way to the Chinese micro-blogging platform Weibo, where the #lululemon辱华# ​(#LululemonInsultsChina#) hashtag has hit over 30 million views and generated thousands of posts. “This is blatant racism. Stop selling your stuff here if you have no respect for Chinese customers,” a Weibo user commented.

On Tuesday, as the backlash intensified, Lululemon responded to an angry customer on Instagram, saying that while the controversial item was not its product, it had fired Fleming because of the offense he caused. “We hold our values at our core and find the image and post inexcusable,” the brand wrote. According to Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), Calvin McDonald, Lululemon’s chief executive officer, shared an internal note with the company’s employees on Monday evening in which he wrote, “I want you to understand that culturally insensitive or discriminatory actions will not be tolerated at any level, in any form, within Lululemon.”

On Weibo, Lululemon issued a similar statement (in Chinese), saying that it strongly opposes any form of racism against Chinese. But for those demanding a public apology on all major social media services including Twitter and Facebook, they said that Lululemon’s Weibo post was not enough. “It seems like this is a Chinese apology made only for Chinese customers. I’ll be boycotting Lululemon until it releases an English version of it on Twitter,” a Weibo user wrote.

Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.

4 Comments

  1. Christian Hermann Reply

    i hope there is still some people left in mainland China who have a notch of self-reflection and considerate thought. But the more we see reactions from Chinese netizens I feel there is no hope for them. A lost civilization, full of nationalism and false pride built on false promise.

    1. Mia Reply

      Oh not just some people, chinese people are humble and smart for the great majority, you just don’t know them and honestly, based on your baseless remarks, not qualified to judge anyone, let alone a whole nation. I’ve lived there and they are a humble and hard working group of people. You think they are full of themselves, but the world, the media and politicians are always always condemning them, accusing them, and hating on them. Look at how the media is always painting china, always the controling, inhumain communist political shit like a broken record. It’s mostly negative coverage, whereas in reality, it’s not like that, people are living pretty nicely, whether in the rural or urban areas. For this situation, it looks like Lululemon was pulling a pr stunt to drive sales, it’s old practice in business, theres almost no such thing as bad pr, but the thing is, this is quite offensive. Its essentially attacking chinese-american food, like “we don’t want your take-out anymore” when there’s no relation whatsoever. That’s offensive and unfair. Ofc they can defend themselves.
      They are not a lost civilization, they have created so many things…and progressing at such a rate, that it could be seen as scary. But they are truly resilient people who want peace and cooperation with other nations. They accept that other countries have different political systems whereas the west is constantly promoting and forcing democracy on others, look at all the middle eastern countries, africa, hell, japan and south korea, they all gotta listen to america and have their troops posted all over their country and can’t even do anything about it. The west needs to actually apply their democracy and stop forcing other nations to bend over their every whim and decry for “freedom”. The chinese people are living comfortably and truly embracing the modern china and developments in technology, science, infrastructure etc.
      They don’t deserve the blind hate and biased stance you and all your kind throw at them. If a business mocks them, they have the right to feel angry for such lack of respect. Just like you would feel outrage if someone mocks you and your very person. Leave them alone for goodness’ sake. That is their freedom of expression, why are you judging them for something they are allowed to have and feel?!

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