What Happened: Fashion’s problems with racism go well beyond misjudged marketing campaigns. Theory, a New York-based contemporary fashion label, has become the latest brand blasted online for targeting Asian consumers with a racial slur. According to industry watchdog Diet Prada, Audrey Liu Dvorsky, who immigrated to the US from China ten years ago, was shopping at Theory when a store associate offered to ship her leggings that were out of stock. Upon receiving the package, she discovered that it was labeled with the name “Ching Liu.” She was later told by client services that her information had been wrongly entered into their database years ago.
The Jing Take: Theory has since posted an apology on Instagram, stating that the brand has “learned of an incident…with an incorrect delivery name” and that it is “deeply committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion.” But “incorrect” is misspelling her name or mishearing Audrey for Aubrey; the word “Ching” isn’t even in the ballpark and comes with a long, painful history of anti-Chinese sentiment and mockery in the media.
Theory is by no means the first brand to offend its Asian consumers. As Diet Prada notes, googling any variation of “Ching,” “Chong,” and “receipt” indeed pulls up a list of businesses behaving badly, including Chick-fil-A, Papa John’s, and CVS. Luxury houses have not been immune to backlash either, with fashion industry DJ Michel Gaubert, who produces soundscapes for Chanel, Dior, and Valentino, appearing at a party earlier this year with his friends wearing masks with slanted eyes and yelling “Wuhan girls.” To make matters worse, the president of Chanel accepted Gaubert’s apology — one that should have been directed at the Asian and AAPI community — and carried on with business as usual.
The news does not seem to have reached China yet, where Theory has 40,000 followers on Weibo and is in the midst of Singles’ Day promotions. However, the problem isn’t just alienating Asian, Asian American, and Chinese audiences; as more consumers stand in solidarity with minority groups, they are increasingly canceling brands whose actions don’t align with their social justice values. As Dolce & Gabbana proves, these PR disasters may not destroy a brand’s bottom line (D&G’s sales in China have rebounded 20 percent from last year while the Americas region is expected to drive revenue back to pre-pandemic levels this fiscal year), but they could became a big obstacle to winning new fans.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.