An ad for Japanese fast fashion brand Uniqlo’s Fleece range has been withdrawn in South Korea after a recent commercial was met with widespread outrage.
The commercial which is running across multiple markets featured 98-year old fashion icon Iris Apfel alongside 13-year-old fashion designer Kheris Rogers.
The controversy stemmed from the subtitling of the Korean commercial.
In the original ad, Apfel says “I can’t remember that far back” when asked by Rogers about how she dressed at age 13. In the Korean ad – which has been withdrawn – the subtitle said: “I can’t remember things that happened more than 80 years ago.”
The reference has been perceived as being deliberate and loaded, considering 1939 was believed to be the year in which Japan’s campaign of forced labour camps and sexual slavery began in earnest, according to a report in The Korea Times.
Uniqlo withdrew the ad and issued a statement in which it said: “The advertisement in question is a part of a global advertisement series to mark the 25th anniversary of fleece and it has no links to any political or religious agendas, belief or organisations, but we decided to stop airing the ad as we take it seriously that many people felt uncomfortable.” It also said the number had been added to highlight the difference in age between the two stars of the commercial.
The controversy comes in the wake of mounting trade tensions between South Korea and Japan, which has led to a boycott of Japanese brands.
Anti-Uniqlo sentiment was heightened in July this year when an executive from its parent company during an earnings call said: “We do not think the effects will continue for long” in reference to the boycott.
The statement generated enormous backlash, causing Uniqlo to issue an apology at the time. Uniqlo said: “Because poor expressions were used, the actual intent was not properly conveyed, ultimately causing distress to many customers, for which the company sincerely apologises”, adding that the executive had said “we think” when he meant “we hope”.
Uniqlo said: “The actual intent of these remarks was to assert that Fast Retailing will continue to do what it has been doing without any change, which is to continue to make a sincere effort to provide quality goods and services and that, since the company has received continued support in South Korea for many years, it hopes the effects will not last long. The executive should have clearly stated that ‘we hope’, but instead poorly expressed this as ‘we think’.”