At the risk of stating the obvious, fashion has a long history of doing racist shit, and the outbreak of covid-19 has emboldened racists to become more vocal and casual with their racism. When those forces of intolerance combine, news like this emerges: According to Reuters, Trevor Fleming, a senior global art director for Lululemon, shared an Instagram link to an astonishingly racist t-shirt with a thinly veiled anti-Asian sentiment. Designed by an artist named Jess Sluder, the shirt features a Chinese takeout box with bat wings, and was labeled “Bat Fried Rice” on his webstore before being removed. On Instagram, Sluder posted the product with the caption, “Where did COVID-19 come from? Nothing is certain, but we know a bat was involved. Beginning today, my limited edition #quarantees are now available. Link in bio or DM for details…Thank you for your support and sense of humor! #humornothat #batfriedrice.”
Reuters reports that Fleming’s promotion of Sluder’s design resulted in the hashtag #LululemonInsultsChina, viewed over 200 million times on the social media app Weibo. That quickly translated to Lululemon’s official Instagram, where commenters expressed outrage over Fleming sharing the tee.
As Business Insider reports, Lululemon issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon, confirming that the shirt was not their design, and that “the person involved is no longer an employee of Lululemon” without mentioning Fleming by name.:
“At lululemon, our culture and values are core to who we are...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.”
While Lululemon might’ve acted appropriately in this instance by firing their employee, its corporate culture is overall not one to be praised: The company is notorious for bad behavior, including promoting fatphobia, requesting customers bend over to prove their leggings were sheer, and allegedly assaulting its Bangladeshi factory workers.
But take this as a lesson, lest it need be repeated: a pandemic is no excuse to normalize hatred, even under the guise of a “humor.” It’s not funny. It never is funny, and now, as crimes against Asian-Americans continue to rise, it is especially not funny.