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Business trends

Luxury brands apologize to China amid Hong Kong row

Versace and Coach take heat over description of territory on T-shirts

Versace has apologized to Chinese consumers for a T-shirt that implied Hong Kong and Macao were independent countries.   © AP

SHANGHAI -- Multinational luxury brands are rushing to apologize after incurring the wrath of Chinese consumers over websites or products seen as challenging Beijing's sovereignty over Hong Kong or Taiwan.

Versace got into hot water over a T-shirt design listing prominent cities with their respective countries, such as "New York - USA" and "Beijing - CHINA." Irate Chinese netizens posted pictures of the shirt that highlighted two lines: "Hong Kong - HONG KONG" and "Macau - MACAO."

Following a torrent of criticism, the Italian luxury fashion brand apologized this week on the Weibo microblogging platform and said it had removed the offending shirts from its sales channels late last month.

The status of Hong Kong is a particularly sensitive issue for the central government now as it grapples with weeks of protests in the semi-autonomous territory. China's relationship with Taiwan -- which it regards as an integral part of its territory -- has also frayed, with the mainland banning individual travel there this month. Foreign brands in China are reluctant to expose themselves to not only consumer outrage, but also potential government action.

Coach, a brand owned by American holding company Tapestry, acknowledged this week an issue with a similar shirt that had caused an uproar.

"In May 2018, we found a serious inaccuracy in the design of a few T-shirts. We immediately pulled those products from all channels globally," it wrote on social media.

"Coach respects and supports China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the message said.

Calvin Klein, Japanese sportswear maker Asics, France's Givenchy and Austria-based Swarovski have also apologized on social media for issues with their products or websites.

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