Boohoo labels Japanese writing as ‘Chinese text’: are Asians all the same to you?
Labelling all Asian cultures as ‘the same’ is damaging and offensive
Fast fasion companies have a huge history of making problematic garments, and they’re no strangers to overt cultural appropriation. Just recently, Boohoo.com listed some t-shirts with generic Japanese words on them but carelessly labeled them as “Chinese Text” instead.
Boohoo.com is an online fast fashion giant operating in 100 countries in the world, which is owned by the same company as PrettyLittleThing, Nasty Gal, Karen Millen, Oasis, Warehouse and Coast, and is soon to be expanding to Debenhams as well.
You may be wondering, what’s the big deal? Surely, this is just a simple mistake? While this may seem like a “simple mistake” on the surface, it actually has its roots in very serious racism and has an array of racist implications, n0t least of all that all Asian cultures are the same or merely interchangeable. This needs to change.
Not all Asians are the same or an aesthetic
Getting Chinese and Japanese mixed up shouldn’t be an “easy mistake” to make. They’re two distinctly separate countries with very different languages and cultures. The fact is, Asian cultures have been generalised by western society since the beginning of time. The term “oriental” is still widely used. If you search any of these fast fashion sites for that word you will find a vast array of vaguely “Asian” styled garments, and you can still find the word used in Supermarkets above the general East/Southeast Asian food section.
This term has been outdated for millennia and no longer serves any purpose in modern society. If you look up the origins of the word it dates back to the Roman Empire and referred to everything from Egypt to China. It is defined as the “general East” of the world map, grouping all of the countries in that definition under one huge umbrella.
In 2016, then-president Obama signed a bill to remove the use of the word “orientals” in federal law alongside other outdated words such as “negroes”, “Eskimos”, “Indians” and “Aleuts” as antiquated words that now are deemed no longer appropriate. If it’s not appropriate for the government to use, it’s definitely not appropriate for Boohoo to use.
The idea that Asian people are viewed as no more than exotic caricatures is proved over and over when these fashion brands keep chugging out endless poorly made garments with little to no regard or respect for the sources or the meanings of the elements they are taking and profiting from and simply using them as little more than an “aesthetic” or fashion trend.
It seems more than a little insensitive when the company got exposed in December 2020 for exploiting factory workers in Pakistan, forcing them to work in dangerous environments and sometimes having 24-hour shifts and meanwhile paying them 29p per hour, which is well below the minimum wage for Pakistan.
Behind the scenes at Boohoo
The disturbing facts do not stop there. In order to sell clothes for so little money, there are many people along the way that have to pay the price.
In order to meet the demands of the “ultra fast fashion” industry – aside from the exploitation of people in Asian countries – companies like Boohoo have opted for factories that are closer to home, sourcing the majority of their clothes from factories in Leicester, England.
In 2020 an undercover enquiry by the Sunday Times revealed that workers in Leicester were paid £3.50 and under per hour, working in unsafe conditions not adequately protecting them from infection during the pandemic. To this day, Boohoo is still not transparent about who their suppliers are.
While hundreds and thousands of high street shops and businesses closed down and people launched into redundancy in 2020, the exposure of Boohoo’s exploitation of workers did not stop them from getting 51% richer, bringing in a revenue of £1.47 billion in just a 1o month period. It has been reported that their recent expansion has put thousands of other jobs at risk, as everything slowly moves online.
‘I thought it was just basic common sense’
Jade Park (@jvdepvrk), a third generation Chinese takeaway owner and activist first brought attention to these garments by posting on his Instagram:
“It’s crazy, I thought it was just basic common sense! They’ll more than likely be more concerned about the legal implications of false advertising more than anything. If I as a business did anything like mixing British and Germans, I don’t think it will go down so well! Just expect these organisations to go through some sort of checks before publishing”
Chenessa, a Chinese Canadian living in London, also posted the garments on her story:
“I was disappointed l when I saw the mix up of Japanese and Chinese characters. Mainly because someone(s) had to approve the design. And it wasn’t just one person, the design process is either a team or hierarchy, or both. But then when I saw that they also referred to Chinese characters as ‘Oriental’, I realize that it isn’t just a mistake but more a blatant disregard for anything that may be deemed offensive.”
Racism Unmasked Edinburgh, an activist group giving the East and Southeast Asian community a voice in Edinburgh released a statement:
“With their growing empire and vast diversity of clientele, these companies, therefore, do not have an excuse for not even doing the bare minimum when it comes to product and marketing research. The ignorance and entitlement here is suffocating – if you really are going to mindlessly pick and choose elements from other marginalised cultures that you find ‘palatable enough’ for Western consumers to use as a disposable aesthetic, at least have a little more sensitivity and do a little more research.”
Boohoo has declined to comment.
Cover photo via boohoo.com