Lululemon is facing a monumental backlash on social media after one of its arts directors posted a t-shirt design featuring a box of “bat fried rice”.
The athleisure giant has apologised for the “inappropriate and inexcusable” Instagram post, which has led to the hashtag “Lululemon insults China” to be viewed 204 million times on China’s Weibo.
The t-shirt, designed by independent Californian artist Jess Sluder, featured an image of a takeaway box with bat wings with the words “no thank you” spread across the front and arms.
More #COVID19 racism by linking bats (incorrect virus source; it’s undetermined) with the iconic Chinese American takeout container & fried rice. This is NOT #humornothate. Your laughs and “art” put people’s lives & safety at risk.
— Kevin Huang｜黃儀軒 😷 (@yskevinhuang) April 19, 2020
Lululemon’s now former art director Trevor Fleming posted a picture of the t-shirt on his Instagram account on Sunday, leading many to accuse the brand of racism and sparking the social media furor.
This could spell trouble for Lululemon, which counts China as its fourth largest market with 38 stores in the country.
During its last earnings call on March 26, its chief executive said it planned to double its store base in China this year.
Sluder’s original Instagram post, which was removed on Sunday, read: “Where did COVID-19 come from? Nothing is certain, but we know a bat was involved… Beginning today, my limited edition #quarantees are now available. Link in bio or DM for details…Thank you for your support and sense of humor! #humornothat #batfriedrice”.
BOYCOTT @lululemon, #trevorfleming, #jesssluder.
This company is RACIST. They promote this discrimination and hatred in a time of severe racial tension. They do not care about the lives and well-being of Asian Americans, only $$$. pic.twitter.com/jRtereSi7P
— lp (@oncoldwings) April 21, 2020
In a statement to NextShark, which first reported the story, Sluder said: “I’d like to apologize to all those affected by the design. It was never my intention.
“I’m not a person who seeks to offend or make others feel uncomfortable. I’m hoping people can give me the chance to grow and learn from this experience. I will make this right. Thank you for listening.”
Lululemon also stated: “At lululemon, our culture and values are core to who we are and we take matters like this extremely seriously.
“The t-shirt design is not a lululemon product. We apologize that an employee was affiliated with promoting an offensive T-shirt and we take this very seriously.
“The image and the post were inappropriate and inexcusable and we do not tolerate this behaviour. We acted immediately, and the person involved is no longer an employee of lululemon.”
Fleming also said that he was “deeply sorry to everyone who I have hurt” and deeply regretted “not taking the necessary steps to properly review what I was promoting”.