On Thursday, Singapore-based influencer Yoyo Cao uploaded a photo of herself showing off an #OOTD on Instagram, featuring a T-Shirt from her own fashion label, Exhibit Store. Sounds standard, right? The problem, however, is that Cao’s shirt featured the phrase “fuck what they say” in the upper left corner alongside a graphic of a gun — and given the context of today's debate surrounding gun control, particularly in the United States, it didn’t take long for her commenters to start calling her out.
Tina Craig, the woman behind Bag Snob, took to the comments under Cao’s photo, as well as her own Instagram Story, to address the shirt. “I am beyond offended by this!” she wrote. “My son hasn’t slept in weeks because he fears a student will bring a gun to school.” She shared a photo of her son, who is now 13 years old and is “worried about being killed at school,” referring to the recent Parkland school shooting. “I will always use my voice,” she added. “Life is not a popularity contest. The woman who designed and is selling the tone deaf ‘fuck what people say’ gun motif shirt is not only a popular influencer but a mother.” And to Craig, that is all the more reason for Cao to have picked up on just how insensitive the shirt is.
Supporters who have come to Cao’s defense say it's an excusable offense because she isn’t American. But that’s not reason enough for Craig. “Being Asian/not American is not an excuse,” she posted. “The world is connected.”
Fashion saw similar backlash when street style star Miroslava Duma posted an invitation from designer Ulyana Sergeenko for her fashion show during Paris Fashion Week to her Instagram Story, which read “To my [N Word] in Paris.” Both Russian women were criticized for not being informed, with some citing cultural differences as a reason for not recognizing the potential implications of using such language.
H&M and Zara have also come under fire for being racially and culturally insensitive. The latter, the New York Times is reporting, are “beefing up their approval process” for products before they land in customers hands — or on social media where they can be called out. If Cao is going to continue to produce clothing, she too may benefit from diversity trainings and initiatives.
The Instagram post has since been deleted and Cao apologized on her Instagram story, writing, “We have deleted our recent post. Ignorance breeds ignorance. An image on a T-shirt is not something to joke about. Promoting violence was never our intention. The T-Shirts have been removed from the website and we will be careful about what we portray as a branding moving forward. Thank you @bagsnob for bringing this to light.”
We have reached out to both Cao and Craig for comment, and will update this piece if/when we hear back.