Abercrombie & Fitch pulls T-shirts as Asian-Americans protest images

By Deborah Kong The Associated Press
Friday April 19, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Chanting, “Racist fashion’s got to go,” more than 100 Asian-Americans protested Thursday outside an Abercrombie & Fitch store. 

They were upset about a line of controversial T-shirts, including one depicting two slant-eyed men in conical hats and the slogan “Wong Brothers Laundry Service — Two Wongs Can Make it White.” 

After receiving dozens of complaints, the company was removing the T-shirts from all of the company’s 311 stores in 50 states, company spokesman Hampton Carney said Thursday. 

“We’re very, very, very sorry,” Carney said. “It’s never been our intention to offend anyone.” 

But the protesters said that wasn’t enough. They read a list of demands they intend to deliver to the company. 

“It’s unacceptable for them to smear and continue to perpetuate racist stereotypes of Asian-Americans,” said Ivy Lee, 30, an attorney at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. “They wouldn’t do the same for any other ethnic groups. We need a public apology for Asian-Americans who buy a lot of their goods.” 

The protesters also demanded the company publish a public apology in four major newspapers, increase philanthropy and investment in the Asian community and hire consultants to ensure sensitivity on Asian issues. 

They also asked the company to develop an ad campaign with positive images of minorities and encourage customers to return the T-shirts for a refund. 

“The fact they put it on the shelves is an insult to the Asian-American community,” said Alameda resident Peter Ho, as he marched outside the store carrying a sign that read, ’Don’t support racism. Don’t shop at Abercrombie & Fitch.’ “To have them think this is just a fashion statement is just a slap in the face.” 

Activists in other parts of the country were also urging people to call or write the company to complain. Some asked people to boycott stores. 

Carney could not say how many of the T-shirts would be pulled from stores, or how much the recall would cost the New Albany, Ohio-based casual sportswear company. The T-shirts, which went on sale in some stores Friday for $24.50, also were removed from the company’s Web site, Carney said. 

“These graphic T-shirts were designed with the sole purpose of adding humor and levity to our fashion line,” Carney said. 

One of the company’s T-shirts features a smiling Buddha figure with the slogan “Abercrombie and Fitch Buddha Bash — Get Your Buddha on the Floor.” Another reads “Wok-N-Bowl — Let the Good Times Roll — Chinese Food & Bowling.” 

The protesters, who included former city Supervisor Mabel Teng and Stanford University students, said the T-shirts are particularly hurtful because they poke fun at a period in history when laundry and restaurant work were among the few employment opportunities available to Asians because of discrimination. 

Carney said the company received about 60 complaints Wednesday about the shirts. Abercrombie makes fun of everyone, Carney said, noting the company’s previous clothing designs have included football coaches, snow skiers and Irish-Americans. 

Carney said he didn’t know yet how the company would respond to the activists’s demands. Abercrombie is now concentrating on getting shirts off the shelves, he said. 

But Christine Chen, executive director of the Organization of Chinese Americans, said she plans to e-mail several thousand Asian-Americans asking them to check that shirts are removed from stores, and to voice their opinions to Abercrombie. 

“I don’t want them to think it was only 60 people that were complaining,” Chen said of the company. “It was really a larger, broader community that’s concerned with this issue.” 

Michelle Myers, who lives outside of Philadelphia, Pa., said she will ask students in her Asian-American literature and history class, and audiences who attend her spoken word performances, to boycott Abercrombie stores. 

“As an Asian-American person, I’m just tired of being constantly disrespected by mainstream corporations and businesses,” said Myers, 30. 

In Minneapolis, Minn., Bao Phi, 27, is telling people to boycott Abercrombie until it pledges that such designs won’t be repeated. 

“The fact is, they’ve already made money out of our exploitation,” Phi said. “We have to hold the company accountable.” 

It’s not the first time the company, which targets college students, has come under fire. Last year, women’s organizations and conservative politicians rallied against it for its ads featuring young, barely clad models in sexually suggestive poses. 

Still, Mabel Kuupua Kim said she wasn’t bothered by the new T-shirts. 

“I think they’re funny,” said Kim, 52, who was buying shirts with a picture of a slant-eyed man carrying a rickshaw and the slogan ’Good meat, quick feet’ at a San Francisco store. “I’m sorry if some people are offended by it. I don’t see it that way.”