Versace and Coach spark outrage in China for selling shirts that list Hong Kong without a country

Aug 12, 2019

It seems even luxury fashion brands can’t escape the sensitivities of today’s geopolitics.

Coach faced a backlash in mainland China on Monday for a T-shirt design that listed Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan separately from China.

Images of the T-shirt, which is part of a Coach/Disney collection released in May 2018, were circulating on Weibo, China’s Twitter.

The back featured a list of cities with their country names, such as “Tokyo, Japan” and “Milan, Italy.”

The offending Coach shirt.
The offending Coach shirt. / Photo: Weibo

Both Beijing and Shanghai were named as part of China, but Hong Kong and Macau were listed separately only as “Hong Kong” and “Macau.”

Taipei was listed as “Taipei, Taiwan.”

Commentators on Weibo accused Coach of supporting independence in Hong Kong and Macau, which are semiautonomous regions in China, and Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province.

(Read more: A Hong Kong bakery protests with angry cookies)

Coach also came under fire for the store locator on its website which listed Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as three separate countries.

The American fashion brand released a statement later in the day saying it “respects and supports China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and that it had pulled the product from all channels globally.

The backlash followed a similar one faced by Versace on Sunday.

A range of tops by the Italian fashion brand suggested Hong Kong and Macau were not part of China, but not before the issue racked up more than a billion views on Weibo.

The offending Versace shirt.
The offending Versace shirt. / Photo: Weibo

The T-shirts and hoodies, which had a price tag starting at $380, featured a list of famous cities and countries, for instance “Milan – ITALY” and “New York – USA.”

And while it included both Beijing and Shanghai as part of China, the two former colonies were listed of Hong Kong and Macau were listed as separate territories.

Images of the shirt started circulating on Chinese social media amid claims that the fashion brand was undermining China’s sovereignty over the two special administrative regions.

Versace apologized to its Chinese customers on Sunday and said it would destroy the offending clothing.

The incidents come at a sensitive time, with China’s official media painting the ongoing protests in Hong Kong as a violent attempt to seek independence and undermine its “one country, two systems” arrangement with Hong Kong and Macau.

Versace and Coach join a growing list of foreign brands that have been attacked in China for perceived slights to its culture or national sovereignty.

For many of these companies, losing a market as large as China is a big risk.

(Read more: Chinese fashion designers are breaking the ‘Made in China’ stereotype)

Dolce & Gabbana faced an angry backlash last year over a video that showed a Chinese model struggling to use chopsticks.

Calls for a boycott intensified after a leaked message from one of its founders showed him apparently insulting China.

Other companies have been criticized in China for not reflecting the official view of what constitutes sovereign territory.

In May last year, Gap apologized for selling T-shirts with an “incorrect map” of China that did not include Taiwan and parts of the South China Sea.

Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.

FashionHong Kong protests