“I am deeply sorry for the unfortunate recent error that was made by our Company and that is being currently discussed on various social media channels."
Garments mass-produced by both of the brands implied that the formerly British owned Hong Kong and Macau – both semi-autonomous cities in China – were independent.
Hong Kong, operated under China's "one country, two systems" policy, has become particularly sensitive in the mainland as the Asian financial hub has been plunged into months of pro-democracy protests.
Images of a 2018 Coach t-shirt that said Taiwan – a self-ruled democratic island – and Hong Kong were not part of China again provoked anger online.
Both companies have addressed the issue on their social media channels and offered sincere apologies in an attempt to minimise damage.
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“I am deeply sorry for the unfortunate recent error that was made by our Company and that is being currently discussed on various social media channels. Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s National Sovereignty and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it might have caused.” @donatella_versace The Company apologizes for the design of its product and a recall of the t-shirt has been implemented in July. The brand accepts accountability and is exploring actions to improve how we operate day-to-day to become more conscientious and aware.
"Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s National Sovereignty and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it might have caused," Donatella Versace wrote in a post on the brand's Instagram page.
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Coach also released a statement saying that the clothes with the "serious inaccuracy" had been pulled, adding that they were "fully aware of the severity of this error and deeply regret it".
The brand corrected its website as well after Chinese users shared screenshots online showing Hong Kong in a 'Find By Country' drop-down list.
The controversial t-shirts were removed from its official sales channels and "destroyed" on 24 July, the company explained.
The company's representative in China, actress Yang Mi, announced she would stop collaborating with Versace over the t-shirt incident, saying the brand was "suspected of damaging our country's national sovereignty."
Similarly, Coach's ambassador, Chinese model Liu Wen, announced she was terminating her work with the fashion brand as a direct result of the incorrect t-shirts.
The controversies highlight 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 in June pulled a line of limited-edition sports shoes in China after the US sportswear maker’s Japanese designer supported the recent protests in Hong Kong, provoking an online backlash in China.
Italy's Dolce & Gabbana also apologised in November after its products were pulled from lucrative Chinese e-commerce platforms over an Instagram post seen in China as culturally offensive.
Main image by @versace
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