German designer Philipp Plein, owner of the self-titled clothing brand, is soon going to be more famous in China than in the West. He first gained notoriety in China 8 years ago when he printed “F**K YOU CHINA” on a t-shirt. The t-shirt also featured a derogatory depiction of a Qing-era Chinese man with a fu Manchu.
The racist t-shirt in question
At the height of the controversy in 2007, Philipp Plein released an apology, claiming that the offensive statement was an anti-counterfeit measure. The brand also made the outlandish claim that the hidden meaning behind the racist t-shirt design was as follows: Fascinating Urban Collection: Kiss U China….Nice save.
Maybe they thought this not-so-subtle racial slur would go unnoticed. Maybe back in 2007 they never imagined the country they were insulting would soon become the world’s hottest market for luxury retail. Regardless, it wasn’t longer before Chinese people noticed and of course, had a volatile reaction to the brand’s blatant racism.
Following the immense growth in Chinese tourism and shopping, the 2008 scandal is coming back to haunt Philipp Plein as they try to expand into the Chinese market with recent marketing and expansion efforts. Last august, the brand opened an account on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo to promote the opening of four new stores in the Mainland, but was hit with such an intense backlash from Weibo users that they had to permanently turn off comments on all posts.
Weibo users attack Philipp Plein
Since going public with their plan to expand from 10 stores to 14 in China, the cyber-abuse towards Philipp Plein has been relentless on Chinese social networks. For example, This post from just last week has had over 20,000 reposts in less than 24 hours. The author of said post urges Chinese consumers not to support the racist brand, and comprehensively outlines the atrocities of Philipp Plein over the past few years. Weibo is rife with similar posts, many visible under the hashtag #Philipp Plein#.
Philipp Plein now has an army of angry Chinese netizens standing in the way of their expansion plans for China. Will the brand be able to overcome this hatefest, or will their renewed efforts to take advantage of Chinese wealth fail to overcome their previous misdeeds? Given the weight of social media in China, a faux pas that insults the entire nation is most likely insurmountable. Just ask Justin Bieber.