Lululemon accused of racism after employee promotes bat fried rice t-shirt
The Canadian athleisure brand Lululemon is once again finding itself embroiled in an anti-Asian racism scandal thanks to one (now former) staffer's endorsement of a "bat fried rice" t-shirt on Instagram.
Designed by California artist Jesse Sluder, the long-sleeve tee in question features a Chinese take-out box with bat wings plastered across the back, a smaller logo of chopsticks with bat wings on the front, and a giant "NO THANK YOU" running down the arm.
"Where did COVID-19 come from? Nothing is certain, but we know a bat was involved," reads the caption of a post promoting the shirt on Sluder's Instagram account, which has now been set to private.
"Beginning today, my limited edition guarantees are now available. Link in bio or DM for details… Thank you for your support and sense of humor!"
the most offensive thing is thinking people would buy this shirt for $60 pic.twitter.com/F8eYZUwSOc— Simu Liu (@SimuLiu) April 21, 2020
Sluder's work, which made obvious reference to (debunked) rumours about how people consuming bat soup in Wuhan starting the coronvairus pandemic, has been widely decried online as both xenophobic and racist over the past two days.
Criticism hit a fever pitch, however, when Lululemon's Vancouver-based Global Brand Art Director Trevor Fleming shared a link to the controversial t-shirt in his Instagram bio.
"Thanks for promoting racism and xenophobia when there is a SURGE in hate crimes against Asian Americans," reads one of thousands of angry comments on one of the brand's most-recent Instagram posts.
"How the hell can you think something like that is appropriate? Take some accountability. Disgusting. I will never support your brand again."
There have been 100+ daily attacks on Asian Americans since the start of #COVID19. To see people adding to the hurt & racism hurts my heart. I hope someone picks up this story and these individuals take responsibility. I am more proud than ever to be part of the AA community. ✊🏼 pic.twitter.com/nWy9WJeMVE— Kamauri Yeh (@yehwho) April 19, 2020
"I spent $3,000+ on gifts at Lululemon during the holidays not including the amount of money I've spent over the years. You've lost a loyal customer!" reads another.
"I will never purchase any lululemon items ever again! I will also be sure to remind everyone I know to never purchase again! This display of racism by a huge company we all spent thousands of dollars on is CANCELLED."
"Lululemon, usually I am one of your biggest customers. Today, however, I am disappointed by your lack of transparency," wrote another commenter of the company's failure to publicly address the outcry with an official social media post.
"Not only did your employee blatantly display xenophobia and racism, but he also exploited COVID19 just to make a few bucks... not addressing this issue head-on is a sad attempt to push it under the rug and cover-up for your brand. Truly disappointed."
Some even speculated that Fleming was somehow involved in the shirt's creation while working at Lululemon, based on the fact that he was tagged in Sluder's original post. Fleming and Lulu both deny these allegations.
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 seriously. The image was inappropriate and inexcusable. The person involved is no longer an employee of lululemon.— lululemon (@lululemon) April 21, 2020
"I deeply apologize for putting the URL in my bio," reads the new header text of Fleming's now-private Instagram profile. "I did not design the t-shirt, nor did I participate in any part of its creation."
The senior art director appears to have been canned from Lululemon, nonetheless.
His Linkedin profile now states that he worked for the company up until April of 2020, and Lululemon said in a statement about the shirt on Tuesday that "the person involved is no longer an employee."
"At Lululemon, our culture and values are core to who we are," reads the statement sent to reporters and published across several of the apparel brand's social media channels.
"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 behavior. We acted immediately, and the person involved is no longer an employee of Lululemon."
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