Asian Pacific American Community Outraged with
Irresponsible and Derogatory Images
For Immediate Release
April 18, 2002
Contact: Christine Chen, 202-223-5500
Asian Pacific American Community Outraged with Irresponsible and Derogatory
Washington, DC - The Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), a national
nonprofit Asian Pacific American (APA) civil rights and education group is
outraged with t-shirts created by retailer Abercrombie and Fitch Company
that display demeaning and degrading, stereotypical Asian images and word
Slanted eyes, rice paddy straw hats, and images of subservient workers, are
simply a few of the printed designs on this series of six t-shirts. The
statement, "Two Wongs can make it white," makes fun of Asian accents
questions the ability of Asians to pronounce "Rs". Also,
"eat in or wok out" instead of the correct spelling of
"walk" is another
reference to the stereotypical belief that all Asian people own fast food
Chinese restaurants and have English literacy problems.
Other statements and images on these T-shirts trivialize religion through
phrases such as "Buddha Bash, Get Your Buddha on the Floor." One
portrays an Asian woman in a stereotypical subservient manner similar to the
Cameron pin-up, which was historically painted on war planes during WWII.
According to retailer Abercrombie and Fitch, Company, the new line of
t-shirts was supposed to appeal to the emerging Asian Pacific American
market with an estimated buying power of over $250 billion. The retailer
targets youth in their teen to college years, and utilizes marketing
strategies focused on contemporary styles that complement the "classic
"Unfortunately, in this case, the American lifestyle is neither reflected
nor complemented. This new generation of consumers is not interested
wearing pieces of clothing that ridicule Asian Pacific Americans.
Instead, angry complaints, phone calls, and e-mail campaigns spread like
wildfire among APA students, community members and leaders nationwide, as
well as other consumers of various backgrounds who were equally as
offended," said George M. Ong, OCA National President. The OCA
Office was flooded with hundreds of inquiries requesting guidance how to
mobilize around this issue. Asian Pacific Americans will not remain silent
on this issue."
"In our conversations with Abercrombie and Fitch representatives, we
underscored the tremendous outrage of the Asian Pacific American community.
We will continue to coordinate a national campaign with APA student leaders
and community organizations to ensure that this kind of blatant and racist
material is not tolerated," stated Christine Chen, OCA Executive Director.
"These racist images were meant to be a parody, and the Asian Pacific
American community takes offense that a corporation would use common
stereotypes for cheap laughs and profit. Our community has made huge
strides in the struggle for equality, but sadly, these derogatory t-shirts
use of these images devalues our progress, and are evidence of the racial
ignorance that still exists in this country. We still have so much further
After several discussions with Abercrombie and Fitch, OCA was assured by
company spokesperson Mr. Hampton Carney, that they would pull this series of
offensive t-shirts out of all 311 stores nationwide.
In this instance, Abercrombie and Fitch seems to have recognized its
mistake, but it must assure the Asian Pacific American community that it
will change its corporate climate so that these types of blunders will not
As we head into May and prepare for the celebration of Asian Pacific
American Heritage Month, OCA will be asking Abercrombie and Fitch for a
follow-up meeting to discuss how the company might implement specific
strategies such as diversity and cultural sensitivity training for the
workforce, establishing a company policy regarding the use of racial
stereotypes and the use of Asian Pacific American marketing firms who know
and understand the community. By appropriately investing their resources,
and taking steps to understand the Asian Pacific American community,
corporations can prevent costly mistakes like this from occurring again.
OCA continues to urge community members to visit the Abercrombie and Fitch
stores to ensure that all the derogatory merchandise has been removed and
use your voice to express your concerns to the local stores and to the
Abercrombie and Fitch national headquarters at:
1-800-432-0888 (customer service)
or write to:
Michael S. Jeffries, CEO
Abercrombie & Fitch
6301 Fitch Path
New Albany, OH 43054
In addition, all concerned consumers should continue to express opinions and
concerns to local media outlets by submitting editorials. You can also
initiate dialogue or group discussions around this issue with your friends
and family to make sure that our community has a historical perspective on
why these images are derogatory and hurtful and have no place in our
Samples of Articles from the Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury:
ABERCROMBIE & GLITCH
Asian Americans rip retailer for stereotypes on T-shirts
Jenny Strasburg, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, April 18, 2002
Days after hitting store shelves, new Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts featuring
caricatured faces with slanted eyes and rice-paddy hats had Asian Americans
in the Bay Area and beyond demanding a public apology from the retailer.
The Midwestern clothier, which targets the young, affluent and active, said
it was surprised by the mounting controversy over the T-shirt designs.
One has a slogan that says, "Wong Brothers Laundry Service -- Two Wongs Can
Make It White." Beside the prominent lettering are two smiling figures in
conical hats harking back to 1900s popular-culture depictions of Chinese
"We personally thought Asians would love this T-shirt," said Hampton
with Paul Wilmot Communications in New York, the public relations firm where
Abercrombie referred a reporter's call.
"I wouldn't know how they could think that," said Austin Chung, 23, of
Alto, business manager for the quarterly Asian-focused magazine Monolid.
"Abercrombie & Fitch is producing popular culture, and they cater to
views of the majority. You have to ask yourself, who benefits, who gets
empowerment, from these kinds of images? It denigrates Asian men."
As word of the new T-shirts in Abercrombie stores spread yesterday among
university students and on far-reaching e-mail lists, plans shaped up for a
late-night meeting in a Stanford dorm lounge.
The subject: What to do about the series of themed T-shirts the retailer --
known for edgy advertising and skin-bearing advertising -- introduced Friday
in stores and on its Web site, www.abercrombie.com.
"Wok-N-Bowl -- Let the Good Times Roll -- Chinese Food & Bowling,"
design reads, with a stereotypical image similar to the figures on the Wong
"Abercrombie and Fitch Buddha Bash -- Get Your Buddha on the Floor,"
another shirt that shares display space in the youth-oriented,
'TRULY AND DEEPLY SORRY'
The shirts were designed to appeal to young Asian shoppers with a sense of
humor, Carney told The Chronicle yesterday.
The shirts were available for sale yesterday in the Abercrombie store at San
Francisco Shopping Centre on Market Street. Whether they will remain on the
shelves was unclear yesterday, the spokesman said.
"We are truly and deeply sorry we've offended people," said Carney,
that he had spent much of the afternoon returning calls of complaint, many
of them from Stanford students.
"We never single out any one group to poke fun at," Carney said.
fun at everybody, from women to flight attendants to baggage handlers, to
football coaches, to Irish Americans to snow skiers. There's really no group
we haven't teased."
Abercrombie might consider rethinking that approach when marketing to -- or
representing images of -- racial and ethnic groups, said Michael Chang, vice
chairman of Stanford's Asian American Students' Association, organizers of
last night's meeting on campus.
"It's really misleading as to what Asian people are," Chang said.
stereotypes they depict are more than a century old. You're seeing laundry
service. You're seeing basically an entire religion and philosophy being
Abercrombie should apologize publicly, starting with a message from
corporate headquarters, Chang said.
The Asian students' association at Stanford yesterday was encouraging calls
to the company.
EVEN STORE MANAGER SURPRISED
Chang said Stanford students who complained to individual Bay Area store
managers quickly realized that was futile because the merchandise decisions
were being made at a higher level.
Stanford senior BJ Lee, 21, said one store manager acknowledged even he had
been surprised when the T-shirts arrived at his store.
"We tried to get them pulled, but we weren't successful," Lee said.
"Managers don't have authority."
The online chat about Abercrombie doesn't stop at Stanford.
"This story is going around the whole Asian e-mail circle," said Kevin
a 21-year-old student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who said
the chorus of angry voices was growing at MIT and near the campus. Some
students organized public protests in front of Abercrombie stores, he said.
"I think they need to apologize, to make a public statement, but I also
think they need to start looking at their whole strategy for how they
portray people," Choi said. "Maybe it sells in the suburbs . . . but
whole national marketing image is buff, tanned male and female models
without any Asian representation."
Last year, Abercrombie & Fitch caught flak from some activist groups, and
even state governments, for what they viewed as sexually suggestive
advertising campaigns and catalog photos.
Sometimes that kind of publicity can help a retailer more than it hurts,
said retail analyst Jennifer Black with Wells Fargo Securities in Portland,
"In all honesty, I think the controversy (over sexually charged
is kind of a marketing thing -- the teens love it," and they're crucial to
Abercrombie's customer base, Black said.
But pushing controversial racial or ethnic depictions is different, said
Black, who added that the best damage control might be "to come out with an
COMPANY TO DISCUSS RESPONSE
Carney said company executives would discuss a formal response today to the
complaints they had received. He said he did not know how many of the T-
shirts had been distributed or whether they had reached stores in all
"They're part of a fashion line that moves in and out of stores," he
Abercrombie, a company that started with one small New York City outdoors
store and factory in 1892, sold $1.36 billion worth of upscale clothing,
accessories, shoes and related casual merchandise in the fiscal year that
ended in February. The heavily mall-based retailer has headquarters in
Posted on Thu, Apr. 18, 2002
New line of clothing backfires
ASIAN-AMERICANS LEVEL COMPLAINTS
By Cecilia Kang and Donna Kato
An attempt by retailer Abercrombie & Fitch to appeal to more Asian-Americans
with a new line of T-shirts with stereotypical portrayals of Asians has
backfired, eliciting angry complaints and e-mail campaigns to boycott the
New York clothing giant.
The $25 T-shirts, which hit store shelves across the country this week,
depict Asians with slanted eyes and conical hats. One shirt, with two Asian
men at ``Wong Brothers Laundry Service,'' carries the logo: ``Two Wongs Can
Make It White.''
Abercrombie, which targets student shoppers between ages 18 and 22, said the
shirts were meant to ``add humor and levity'' to its fashion, company
spokesman Hampton Carney said Wednesday.
``It was in no way intended to offend anyone, and it hurts us that it has
offended people,'' he said. ``Everyone here at the company thought it was
funny. I even polled the Asians around the office today of what they thought
of the shirts, and they thought the shirts were hilarious.''
Abercrombie received about 60 telephone complaints on Wednesday, many of
them from Stanford University students, but hasn't decided whether to pull
the shirts off shelves, Carney said.
The company, he added, aims to be irreverent and poke fun at all groups. He
pointed to a handful of playful jabs the company has made in the past,
including singling out people such as foreign waitresses, taxi drivers and
The latest T-shirts were, in part, intended to help capitalize on the $250
billion-plus buying power of Asians, one of the nation's fastest growing
ethnic groups who make up 18 percent of Bay Area residents.
But to Terry Fung, 25, who first discovered the shirts over the weekend at
San Francisco's Stonestown Galleria mall, the shirts felt like a direct
``I was so shocked that I just stood there staring at the shirts for a good
two to three minutes,'' said the Chinese-American online marketer. ``Now the
anger is setting in. I have a few pieces of clothing from Abercrombie. Now I
don't want to wear anything from there anymore.''
At the Abercrombie & Fitch store at Westfield Shoppingtown Valley Fair on
Wednesday afternoon, Jimmy Yip, 23, a San Jose State University student who
is Chinese-American, paused to look at the ``Two Wongs Can Make it White''
``It's offensive, and what does it mean? Is it comparing the two races?'' he
asked. ``It feels bad.''
The shirts also surprised non-Asian shoppers.
``I found the shirts -- some more than others -- to be derogatory to
Asians,'' said Jonas Salazar, 22, a student at DeAnza College who looked at
the T-shirts on the store's Web site. ``I was raised by my parents to be
sensitive to other races, so maybe I'm more critical than average.''
Others, however, thought the portrayals were harmless.
``It's just an advertisement for the store,'' said Yip's friend, Kevin
Nguyen, 23, a Vietnamese-American. ``We make fun of everyone -- black,
Hispanic, Asian. It doesn't bother me. I'd wear it.''
Lisa Tan and her cousin Stephanie Wu, both Chinese-Americans, also saw the
shirts as benign.
``I don't know why anyone should be angry or upset,'' said Tan, 20, as she
stood in line to buy a blouse. ``It's a fun shirt.''
San Jose native Cindy Liu received an e-mail about the shirts Wednesday
morning and began forwarding the message with links to Abercrombie's Web
site to friends across the nation.
Liu has long been critical of the company, complaining that its catalogs and
advertisements rarely include minority models. She also sent a letter to the
company's headquarters two years ago inquiring about its hiring practices.
``It is really disappointing because the T-shirts make fun of nearly
everything about our culture: our language, our religious beliefs, our
occupations,'' said Liu, a Chinese-American who lives in Santa Monica.
One shirt, called ``Buddha Bash'' has a smiling Buddha figure with the logo:
``Get Your Buddha On The Floor.''
Fung and Liu are among a number of Asian-Americans who have circulated irate
e-mails, asking people to call the company and clog its Web site with
It's not the first time Abercrombie & Fitch has come under fire.
In 1998, Mothers Against Drunk Driving protested a two-page spread titled
``Drinking 101'' that featured recipes for alcoholic drinks. In 1999, five
legendary surfers sued the retailer for using their names and likenesses in
a catalog layout that featured a historic photo of the surfers next to
another photo of what appeared to be nude male models. The retailer has
continued to irk parents and others with its steamy, sexual photos in ads
``You have to wonder what the heck they're doing, and why a company that's
so popular with Asians would do something like this,'' said Tracy Yen, a
junior account executive with Edge Communications in Calabasas, Calif.
``Abercrombie & Fitch has been controversial, but this is a whole new level
of trying to get attention.''
Contact Cecilia Kang at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5066 and Donna Kato
at email@example.com or (408) 920-5393.