Nike has cancelled the sale of a line of limited-edition sports shoes in China after the sportswear maker’s Japanese designer supported recent Hong Kong protests, highlighting the political risks for western businesses operating in the country.
Chinese retailers halted sales of the trainers designed by Undercover, the studio of Japanese designer Jun Takahashi, after it posted a picture of protesters with the slogan “no extradition to China” — in reference to Hong Kong’s proposed extradition bill — on its Instagram account this month.
The post provoked a backlash from Chinese Instagram users, who use VPN software to access the platform as it is blocked on the mainland. Undercover deleted the post, which it said was an “individual opinion” posted by mistake.
YYSports, a Chinese retailer owned by Hong Kong-listed Pou Sheng International, Nike’s strategic partner in China, said in a social media post that it had received an “urgent notice” from the US sportswear maker resulting in the cancellation of the shoe’s release on June 14.
Other Chinese vendors withdrew the shoes from sale without explanation. Online vendor Douniu said it had removed all products related to the Undercover brand due to “special reasons”, without giving details.
A spokesperson for Nike said: “Based on feedback from Chinese consumers, we have withdrawn from China a small number of products that were designed by a collaborator.”
The controversy is unlikely to have a significant impact on Nike’s revenues in China, as it was swiftly dealt with and the shoes were designed as a collector’s item rather than a mass-market product, said a person close to the company.
But the issue highlights the difficulties multinational companies face adjusting to political sensitivities in China without being seen by consumers in more politically liberal countries as yielding to authoritarian demands.
Nike has marketed itself as a champion of social causes. This included last year hiring Colin Kaepernick, an American football player who was part of a protest movement against US police brutality against African-Americans, as the face of a high-profile advertising campaign.
Last year, German carmaker Mercedes-Benz apologised to Chinese consumers twice after using a quote from the Dalai Lama in a post on its Instagram account. Beijing views the exiled spiritual Tibetan leader as a dangerous separatist.
US clothing retailer Gap was also targeted last year after a post on Weibo, the Chinese social media network, that showed T-shirts with a map of China that did not include Taiwan, south Tibet and the South China Sea. Gap issued an apology.
Nike and its rival Adidas have experienced rapid growth in China in recent years as exercise becomes more popular along with “athleisure” fashion. Nike generated sales of $5.1bn in greater China in 2018, up 18 per cent from the previous year in currency-adjusted terms.
Some Chinese media called for a ban on the Undercover brand. “Making money from Chinese people and doing things which hurt China, Undercover you are disgusting . . . please get out of China,” said an article published by Sneaker News, a Chinese website.
Courtesy : Financial Times