SAN FRANCISCO: Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch faced yet another storm of media controversy last week over a batch of T-shirts that Asian Americans said depicted negative stereotypes of their community.The shirts displayed caricatures of Asians with slanted eyes and conical hats, and featured the phrases, "Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs Can Make It White,
and "Wok-n-Bowl, Chinese Food and Bowling."
Asian-American groups in the San Francisco Bay Area mobilized when Stanford University students noticed the shirts on the store's shelves and on Abercrombie's website.
Community activists notified the local media about their plans for a protest outside a San Francisco store. Articles about the shirts appeared swiftly in the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner, leading to a spate of stories on local Bay Area television news. The story spread to other California media outlets including the LA Times, and eventually led to national exposure after the AP and Reuters picked it up.
"I'm a bit shocked at the level of media interest we've received,
said Rev. Norman Fong, program director at San Francisco's Chinatown Community Development Center. "This went from a Bay Area story to a West Coast story to a national story in just a few days."
Fong's group staged a protest outside one of the company's San Francisco stores, and has been coordinating protest events with Asian-American groups on college campuses in other parts of the US.
Although Abercrombie has agreed to pull the shirts from its shelves, Fong said he and his followers are still waiting for a public apology from the company. The activist's group sent a letter to Abercrombie's CEO asking for a direct apology and a promise that the company would take steps to promote cultural sensitivity toward Asian Americans at the company.
Among the recommendations are for Abercrombie to hire consultants to ensure it carries out its business with the utmost sensitivity to Asian issues.
"It's unacceptable for them to continue to perpetuate racist stereotypes of Asian Americans. They wouldn't do the same for any other ethnic group,
said Ivy Lee, an attorney at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, speaking to the UK's Guardian.
But an Abercrombie spokesman said the company will not take any further action regarding this matter.
"We've already apologized through the media on several occasions,
said Hampton Carney of Paul Wilmot Communications, the firm that represents Abercrombie. "We can promise that this will never happen again. We don't need to put any procedures in place to prevent this from occurring again."
In something of a twist, the few objectionable shirts that were sold before the recall have become collectibles, with some recently up for auction on eBay. Bids were as high as $249 for one of the shirts.
This is not the first time the teen-geared clothier has faced public criticism. Abercrombie continues to publish a risque quarterly catalog that several parents groups have railed against.