The mess started over the weekend when Fleming shared a link advertising the shirt — which features a flying Chinese take out box with bat wings and the words “No Thank You” on the box and its sleeves, along with an image of chopsticks and bat wings — on his personal Instagram. The shirt, called “bat fried rice,” priced at $60, was created by California-based artist Jess Sluder.
But the shirt — and Fleming’s willingness to share details on where to buy it — quickly caused a stir on social media. The backlash included critics accusing Lululemon of racism and using hashtags like #BoycottLululemon and #LululemonInsultsChina on Instagram and the Chinese platform Weibo.
The Canadian athletic-apparel retailer was quick to point out the T-shirt is not a Lululemon product and that Fleming was no longer a member of the Lululemon team. The retailer also immediately issued an apology.
“At Lululemon, our culture and values are core to who we are and we take matters like this extremely seriously,” according to a statement from a Lululemon spokesperson. “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.”
In addition, Calvin McDonald, Lululemon’s chief executive officer, issued a note to all employees on Monday evening, explaining what happened and reinforcing the Lululemon’s culture and values.
“I want you to understand that culturally insensitive or discriminatory actions will not be tolerated at any level, in any form, within Lululemon,” McDonald wrote. “A moment like this reinforces the importance of diversity and inclusion and creating a positive workplace. I’m counting on each of you to take personal responsibility for your behaviors so that we can create and sustain the inclusive culture of Lululemon.”
Fleming has also since apologized by way of Instagram. Although his account is private, he wrote in his bio, “I deeply apologize for putting the URL in my bio. I did not design the T-shirt, nor did I participate in any part of its creation.”
Sluder, whose Instagram account has since been made private, could not be reached for comment.
While the exact origins of the coronavirus are still unknown, it was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. Since then, racism and threats against Asians have increased. President Donald Trump was criticized for calling the coronavirus “the Chinese virus” as recently as March.
Lululemon, meanwhile, continues to grow its business in China. In February, the company temporarily closed down all 38 of its retail locations in Greater China because of the virus. In March, McDonald said all of the stores have since reopened.
Shares of Lululemon closed down 5.43 percent Tuesday to $206.72 a piece, after news of the T-shirts made headlines around the world.
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