SHANGHAI – Since March, Shanghai’s Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau has seized and destroyed 400 imported shipments of “unqualified clothing” valued at more than $30 million.
When contact by WWD, the bureau confirmed the seizures, but declined to disclose the brands involved. In a statement, the bureau said: “Unqualified items mainly related to color fastness, pH, excessive formaldehyde, etc., many of [the brands] are familiar [and] well-known brands.”
State media outlets have been more forthcoming with naming the brands allegedly involved, with a China Central Television program on Sunday reporting five batches of Ralph Lauren products were found to have excessive pH levels and did not meet Chinese safety standards for children’s clothing, while Victoria’s Secret products were said to have been destroyed due to inappropriately high amounts of formaldehyde.
In a written statement to WWD, Ralph Lauren said, “Ralph Lauren Corporation takes these matters very seriously and is committed to ensuring that our products meet the highest in quality standards. We are taking action including removing products from distribution and further investigating this isolated incident.”
Victoria’s Secret did not comment on the veracity of the allegations when contacted by WWD.
The release of this information coincides with China’s national “product safety” month, which was instituted by the central government after public outrage over tainted food products, toys and more. Though these tainted products were largely produced domestically, rather than imported from overseas, safety standards for products across the board have been dramatically tightened over the past two years.
This adverse publicity in China comes at a time of high scrutiny for Victoria’s Secret, following the opening of the brand’s four-story flagship here earlier in the year and the announcement that its annual fashion show would be held in Shanghai on November 28.
The invitation-only show has already seen black market tickets advertised on Taobao, China’s largest B2C e-commerce platform, for a starting price of 90,000 yuan, or about $13,700.
China’s female lingerie market is lucrative, with a retail value of $25 billion in 2017 – double that of the United States – expected to grow to $33 billion by 2020, according to data from Euromonitor. It is also, however, highly fragmented with no major brands commanding more than 5 percent of market share.
Despite long avoiding the turmoil that has impacted the retail market at large, Victoria’s Secret owner L Brands increasingly needs the power of China’s rising middle class consumers, with company profits last year slipping 7.5 percent to $1.16 billion.
Local authorities in China have long seized foreign products claiming they were “unsafe” for various reasons, but often to signal to consumers that they should be buying local brands. In the past designer labels such as Giorgio Armani have been seized by China local authorities over allegations they contained “unsafe” levels of formaldehyde or other chemicals, only to later have those products return to store shelves.