Trevor Fleming, an art director at luxury activewear brand Lululemon, was fired this week after posting the link to a racist T-shirt on his Instagram page. The shirt in question? A long-sleeved style which, on the back, featured an image of a Chinese takeout box etched with the phrase “No Thank You” on it and a pair of bat wings. The website titled it, “Bat Fried Rice.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a disturbing rise in xenophobia aimed toward East Asian communities, an issue no doubt intensified by President Trump’s language during recent press conferences. Last month, the President publicly used the terms “China virus” and “kung flu” to describe the novel coronavirus, which has now killed over 183,000 people worldwide.
Now, that same racist discourse and blatant disregard for East Asian people has reached the fashion and wellness industries.
Soon after posting the T-shirt’s link to his personal Instagram account’s bio, Fleming received an onslaught of criticism from Lululemon fans, many of whom also condemned the brand for hiring someone who would share something so obviously offensive. One user responded on the brand’s latest Instagram post, stating her disappointment toward Lululemon. “It really sucks what you have done,” @ocean.qzhang wrote. “I just placed an order through the UK website. I will definitely return every piece, without a single doubt. As such a popular brand even in China. Do you feel ashamed to do so? I will ask all my friends to stop supporting you. Never ever again.”
The comment then led to a much larger and very controversial thread, headed up by a response from Lululemon’s social team, which states, “Please know that at Lululemon, our values are core to who we are. We take matters such as this extremely seriously and have no tolerance for cultural insensitivity and discrimination. The employee involved is no longer with the company.”
According to The New York Times, Fleming has since apologised for posting the T-shirt’s link, stating that while he had nothing to do with its design, he does regret sharing it. “My eyes have been opened to the profound ripple effect that this mistake has had,” he said in a statement.
The person who did design the T-shirt is Jess Sluder, a California-based artist. On a recent Instagram post, an image of a desktop computer screen that reads, “You were happier before we met,” Sluder was met with hundreds of angry commenters. @eileen_needs_sleep wrote, “I was happier before you made your racist clothing,” while @5spicestudio said, “You’re right, I was definitely happier before I met you and your racism.”
Sluder’s response? “As an artist I often toy with pushing boundaries with satirical work and I simply crossed the line,” he wrote in an Instagram caption. “This situation has taught me to be more conscious of the impact of my work and I am deeply sorry to anyone who was offended or hurt by my actions.”
When asked for a comment, the Lululemon replied: "We apologise 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 behaviour. We acted immediately, and the person involved is no longer an employee of Lululemon."
Despite the Canadian activewear brand’s insistence that it neither had knowledge of Fleming’s racist behaviour prior to his posting of Jess Sluder’s design, nor was it involved with the T-shirt’s design in any way, many continue to show disdain toward Lululemon on social media, tweeting that they will no longer be supporting the brand.
To keep that from happening, not to mention, to avoid issues like this one from occurring again, Lululemon is taking serious precautions when it comes to their employees.
"I want you to understand that culturally insensitive or discriminatory actions will not be tolerated at any level, in any form,” Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald wrote in a company-wide email following the incident. "I’m counting on each of you to take personal responsibility for your behaviours so that we can create and sustain the inclusive culture of Lululemon."