UPDATE: On April 26, in response to public outcry, Balenciaga issued an apology on its official WeChat account.
Here is the statement:
The house of Balenciaga regrets the incident that took place yesterday morning at a department store in Paris while customers were waiting to enter its corner shop. The security staff acted immediately to restore the calm. Balenciaga sincerely apologizes to the customers who were present and reaffirms its strong commitment to respect equally all its customers.
Just two months after being called out for discreetly shifting part of its luxury sneaker production to China, French brand Balenciaga has become embroiled in a new controversy. On social media, angry Chinese consumers say they will boycott the brand, and some daigou agents, who stock up on products overseas and ship them back to buyers in China, say they will pause their sales of Balenciaga items.
The outrage stems from a short video that shows a young Chinese man being roughly handled, reportedly at a Balenciaga store inside a high-end Paris shopping mall. The video went viral on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat, and the brand’s official Instagram account also quickly filled up with negative comments from Chinese internet users accusing Balenciaga of racial discrimination.
A WeChat user named Paituzhuli (拍图助理) first posted the video on his Moments feed yesterday. He wrote that:
“I am trembling with anger. Chinese people living abroad are always in the minority. I line up to buy Balenciaga’s Triple S sneakers every day and French-Albanians cut in front of me every day, but I can do nothing. Today, an old Chinese lady called out five Albanians who attempted to cut the queue. One of them pushed her away and threatened to beat her. Then, the lady’s son came to protect his mom and was beaten by them. A French security guard also came to stop the fighting, but only handled that Chinese guy. The chaos led to the cancellation of the sales event. It was really upsetting to see that those Albanians got the shoes, while Balenciaga humiliated Chinese customers who lined up in the store. They asked us to leave and never come back to buy their shoes.”
The topic “Boycotting Balenciaga, which discriminates against Chinese people” is now trending on Weibo with more than four million views at the time of publication.
“We won’t accept any apology on this issue, wrote one commenter. “I suggest the young man and his mother file a lawsuit against the shopping mall and the brand.”
A few Weibo users tried to defend the brand. One named “guohahahah” wrote, “Come on. It’s the problem of the shopping mall, not Balenciaga, okay? Please make it clear, everyone.”
On Balenciaga’s Instagram, camille_chen asked, “Is racial discrimination the core of your brand??” A user named “tiancheng_x” asked the brand to issue a formal letter of apology and reminded Balenciaga of the importance of the Chinese market to its revenues.
Balenciaga’s parent company Kering Group released its first-quarter earnings results yesterday, showing 49 percent year-on-year growth. The company cited a strong recovery in luxury spending by Chinese consumers as one of the main reason for the boom in sales. Chinese shoppers have been especially fond of Balenciaga’s Triple S sneaker, nicknamed “Daddy Shoes” in China for their ’90s aesthetic.
Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive about the way they are treated overseas by brands and retailers. Lancôme, Dolce & Gabbana, Audi, and Marriott have all found themselves in trouble recently, with negative consumer sentiment impacting their sales to varying degrees.