Swastika shirt pulled from stores

NEW YORK • The shirt looked, at first glance, quite simple, even humdrum - a short-sleeved, black button-down, from streetwear label Airwalk, priced at US$12.99 (S$17.50), and patterned with tiny, white polka dots.

Except they were not dots. They were swastikas, roughly 14,000 in all.

How exactly a shirt covered in swastikas made it through the design process, much less crammed into a rack in a Ross Dress For Less store in Florida, can probably be chalked up to retailers' vast and complex retail supply chains, where errors can often be overlooked.

The shirt had been designed by a company that licensed the Airwalk brand, then made in India, shipped to a warehouse in the United States and delivered to Ross stores.

Apparently nobody flagged it along the way. Ross Stores, a discount clothing chain with more than 1,500 outlets in the US, said it was removing the shirt.

Several layers of quality control are supposed to catch missteps.

Many retailers hire auditors to visit factories; their buyers often host apparel-makers, searching through designs to pick out what they want.

Retailers such as Ross often buy from brands and are not involved in the production process.

The items they pick must then pass through random audits while being transported to warehouses or distribution centres.

Final checks are performed in stores when staff unbox clothes.

Yet, accidental Nazi imagery is not uncommon in retail.

The swastika - a sacred religious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism long before the Nazis hijacked it - pops up regularly.

Hallmark Cards recalled gift wrap with swastikas threaded into a pattern. Mango sold a shirt with lightning bolts that evoked the SS insignia. Zara has pulled handbags with green swastikas.

Then there are those who sell the swastika on purpose, like the T-shirt seller that tried to rebrand it as a "symbol of peace" with US$22 rainbow-swastika shirts this summer.

Backlash was swift and it pulled the styles.

In the case of the shirt at Ross, it appears that nobody immediately noticed the thousands of swastikas.

The shirt bore the label of Airwalk, a skateboard footwear and apparel brand owned by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), parent company to other brands such as Aeropostale, Juicy Couture and Tapout.

A spokesman for ABG initially said what turned out to be swastikas were supposed to have been tiny reproductions of Airwalk's "ollie man" logo, one of the brand's trademarks, then later said they were actually a version of a different star pattern.

The design was created by a New York-based apparel importer called Fashion Options that had licensed the Airwalk brand and it never underwent ABG's approval process.

Typically, a licensee would submit a design to ABG for approval before sending it to production.

In this case, that step was skipped because Fashion Options' head of design had recently quit, said Mr Michael Haddad, the company's chief executive.

The shipment from the factory abroad arrived in a public warehouse and appears never to have been checked before it was sent to Ross stores, Mr Haddad said.

He estimated that several thousand pieces were sent out - a small number in mass-market retail.

The problem was brought to his attention about a week ago after Ross became aware of it.

Fashion Options and Ross agreed to pull the shirts, which Ross will destroy.

"There was nothing malicious intended here," said Mr Haddad.

"The problem was contained. It was remedied. This one happened to slip through the cracks," he added.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'Swastika shirt pulled from stores'. Print Edition | Subscribe