How Your Fashion Brand Can Avoid Being Seen As Culturally Insensitive (Like Dolce & Gabbana)

How Your Fashion Brand Can Avoid Being Seen As Culturally Insensitive (Like Dolce & Gabbana)

If you’ve been paying any attention to fashion industry news, you’ll most certainly be aware of Dolce & Gabbana‘s PR nightmare in China following a series of culturally insensitive ad videos featuring a female Asian model eating a cannoli with chopsticks.

Many social media users call the videos racist. The videos, which were taken down 24 hours after it was published on Chinese microblogging social media site Weibo, seemed to mock and patronise Chinese culture, from the way the model tries to eat the cannoli with chopsticks as though she is oblivious to the use of a knife and fork, the penis size innuendo as the model tries to eat the ‘extra large’ cannoli (inferring to the generalisation that Asian men have smaller anatomies) through to the ad narration, which one Reddit user translates as, “Maybe this would provide you with the illusion that you were born in Italy but unfortunately, you’ll always be Chinese in China.”

Outraged with the ads, the community took to social media platforms such as Instagram to vent their anger towards Dolce & Gabbana (although Instagram is banned in China).

Instagram user @diet_prada publicly criticised the offensive ads in an Instagram post which at the time of writing, has garnered over 559,000 views and 17,000 likes:

View this post on Instagram

#DGlovesChina ? More like #DGdesperateforthatChineseRMB lol.  In a bid to further appeal to luxury's covetable Chinese consumers, @dolcegabbana released some hella offensive “instructional” videos on the usage of chopsticks.  Pandering at it's finest, but taken up a notch by painting their target demographic as a tired and false stereotype of a people lacking refinement/culture to understand how to eat foreign foods and an over-the-top embellishment of cliché ambient music, comical pronunciations of foreign names/words, and Chinese subtitles (English added by us), which begs the question—who is this video actually for?  It attempts to target China, but instead mocks them with a parodied vision of what modern China is not…a gag for amusement. Dolce & Gabbana have already removed the videos from their Chinese social media channels, but not Instagram.  Stefano Gabbana has been on a much-needed social media cleanse (up until November 2nd), so maybe he kept himself busy by meddling with the marketing department for this series. Who wants to bet the XL cannoli “size” innuendos were his idea? Lmao. • #dolceandgabbana #altamoda #rtw #dgmillennials #stefanogabbana #shanghai #chinese #italian #cannoli #meme #wtf #dumb #lame #chopsticks #foodie #tutorial #cuisine #italianfood #asianmodel #asian #chinesefood #dietprada

A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada) on

To make matters worse, a series of racist tirades from one of D&G’s designers Stefano Gabbana (or at least, attributed to him) surfaced after fashion model of Vietnamese background Michaela Phuong Thanh Tranova denounced the culturally insensitive ads on Instagram and a heated exchange with the designer ensued.

In the Instagram exchange, Gabbana accused the Asian model of eating dogs, indicated that China is a pile of shit (through use of emoji) and called China “Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia”.

Heated Instagram exchanges between Micheala Tranovo and Stefano Gabbana - Backlash over racist Dolce & Gabbana ads
Image: @michaelatranovo via Instagram

To add further insult to injury, the founders of Dolce & Gabbana released an apology and deny that they were involved in these exchanges, claiming that they were a result of hacking and that their legal department was investigating. Taking it a step further, they released a video apology too. The public is refusing to buy the excuse, however, given this isn’t an isolated incident and the founders have a long history of racist, homophobic and controversial remarks.

Regardless of the apology, the damage had already been done with prominent Chinese figures and actors such as Zhang Ziyi (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) denouncing the brand and expressing that they would not attend the #DGTheGreatShow catwalk presentation which was scheduled to take place in Shanghai.

Several high profile models such as Lucky Blue Smith and Estelle Chen also joined in, pulling out of the runway show.

Chinese models pulling out of the Dolce & Gabbana fashion show
Credit: Imgur

The wider Chinese community dubbing the brand “Dead & Gone” responded in kind, with a social movement of its own #BoycottDolce after the screenshots went viral and the racist comments were revealed.

And as Business of Fashion reports, e-commerce sites such as Net-A-Porter and Alibaba’s Taobao took immediate action, dropping the brand from its online sites in China.

With tensions escalating, Dolce & Gabbana were left with no other option but to cancel its 500-look runway show.

The company has 44 boutiques in China and expected to take a hit in sales and profits as a result of the backlash, and questions about the brand’s future are circulating since the country is critical to a luxury brand’s success. A recent study by Bain consultancy said one-third of all high-end purchases are made by Chinese consumers and is expected to rise to 46 per cent by 2025.

As noted in a previously published piece about cultural differences, at a time of globalisation and hyper-connectivity (thanks to the internet and affordable travel), there are no excuses for such cultural ignorance.

How Your Fashion Brand Can Avoid Being Seen As Culturally Insensitive (Like Dolce & Gabbana)

So if you run a global fashion brand, here’s what you need to do to ensure what happened with Dolce & Gabbana doesn’t happen to you:

1. Don’t be racist

First order of business really LOL. If you’re a founder, hold a role in the executive team or work in upper management and have racial superiority leanings and think thoughts like “my country/race is better than your country/race because….” this is going to be hard to get around since hiding your superiority complex may be difficult. But you should hide them if you can’t change them (why can’t you change them!?) or your racist views will be called out, and so they should be.

If you can’t or won’t change your racist views and attitudes, perhaps you should just do business within your country’s own borders?

2. Go back to marketing 101

Dolce & Gabbana could have avoided this whole nightmare if they just followed marketing basics and had run surveys and conducted focus groups on their ads to get feedback from their target market.

If you plan to launch an advertising or marketing campaign, don’t do what D&G did (which was absolutely nothing from all appearances), make sure to test those ads and seek feedback, advice and recommendations.


3. Hire a culturally diverse team

If the people in your business team looks, acts, talks and thinks like you, that’s a huge problem and a massive liability when it comes to running a global business (and let’s face it, most businesses are now global, particularly if you ship products or have wholesale suppliers internationally).

Cultural diversity brings many benefits to a workplace, such as different perspectives and viewpoints. Perhaps if Dolce & Gabbana had a more culturally and racially diverse advertising and marketing team, the issues that played out in China would never have happened. Someone in the team would likely have piped up, shared concerns about the ad content and would have been able to steer the ship away from the stereotype-filled iceberg.

Hire a culturally diverse team - how your fashion brand can avoid looking culturally insensitive

4. Don’t respond in anger

While Stefano Gabbana claims his account was hacked and he never wrote the racist remarks on Instagram, this should be viewed with suspicion given the founders’ history of controversial comments. It is much more likely that the designer was upset about being attacked and vilified on social media, and feeling defensive after being called to account, lashed out in anger, with a “best form of defence is attack” type attitude.

As we have all experienced at some point or another, speaking out of anger can cause us to say and do some pretty stupid things, as Gabbana clearly demonstrated. So if you find yourself or your brand in the centre of a heated controversy, best to remain quiet, stop talking and interacting. Wait for a better time to reply, release a statement or comment and make sure you do so only after consulting with your team. There’s a reason why lawyers advise their clients to keep silent. Anything said during this highly sensitive time can and will be used against you.

Never miss our posts. Sign up for our weekly newsletter and receive our free sustainable lifestyle guide when you do. 

Recommending reading:

Title image credit: Shutterstock

**If you enjoyed, learned from, or felt empowered after reading this piece, we’d love for you to support us by donating to our Patreon or giving a once-off PayPal payment via the donate button below.**

Enjoyed this post & want to show your gratitude? Then please support Eco Warrior Princess on Patreon!

More from Business