Can Collabs Swerve China’s Cancel Culture?

Every nation has its own definition of cancel culture. In the U.S. and Europe, copying another fashion designer is enough to get yourself boycotted, whereas in China, that’s unproblematic. Yet this is where netizens are known to be the most unforgiving of all, with most leading designer labels, from Coach to Versace, having issued public apologies to Chinese consumers more than once.

With that being said, the upcoming Travis Scott Air Jordan Mocha Low sneakers —set to be released around the world on July 21 after being postponed in December 2021 seem to have avoided this fate. The music artist has been canceled globally since 10 fans were killed and hundreds injured at his Astroworld festival in November 2021 due to a crowd crush. 

The impact of Scott’s cancellation is prevalent worldwide: in May 2022, online conversations about the upcoming drop plummeted from 82,000 organic posts to just 15,300 when compared to the August 2021 launch. 

Sporting the reverse tick, the upcoming Travis Scott Mocha Air Jordans are predicted to be popular because of the design. Photo: @ryivibes

While global public sentiment toward Scott is still hostile, Nike is nevertheless going ahead with the release and China is excited. The editor of the mainland’s first sneaker magazine and founder of CHOCO1ATE Artspace in Beijing, James Li, said that the country was angry at the level of security at Astroworld, though the artist had less prominence there anyway. 

“The most influential artists in Europe and the U.S. no longer have that same unparalleled appeal to China’s Gen Z” he explains. “But at the same time, Travis Scott is regarded by many people as a bad role model and has lost audiences.” Li thinks that some Chinese consumers will still buy it, but overall the sneaker market here isn’t thriving right now. He continues, “even if the delayed release can escape the aftermath of Scott’s media storm, the feedback of this series won’t be as good as the previous drops. It’s the resellers that will benefit most.”

James Li is the founder of street fashion media group SIZE MEDIA and CHOCO1ATE Artspace in Beijing.

Northern Virginia-based sneakerhead Chris Colgan believes that the shoes are still set to sell out, despite the controversy. “They’ll have a resale price of US$700 to 1000 (4.7k to 6.7k RMB),” he says, adding that Nike wouldn’t necessarily stay with him if the star was guilty of the fatalities. One glance at comments on Weibo or WeChat reflects that the design of the footwear is more the topic of conversation than the November 2021 tragedy. 

So what does it take to invoke the wrath of China’s supposedly unforgiving cancel culture? Following the Xinjiang cotton controversy in 2021 or the cancellation of local actor Zhang Zhehan for inappropriate vacation photos, missteps involving national pride hold the most unrelenting repercussions.

After all, despite the Gucci x adidas umbrella being quizzed by netizens for not actually being waterproof, it’s now sold out on Gucci online in China. Nike’s Air Jordan has managed to comprehend the world’s cancel culture to a degree, shifting the inventory of Travis Scott’s sneakers without a social media campaign to avoid widespread attention and banking solely on the popularity of the silhouette’s design. As proven by collaborations like Gucci x Adidas and Travis Scott’s Air Jordans, maybe China’s approach to scandals is more nuanced than we’ve been led to believe. 

Gucci x adidas

The Gucci x Adidas umbrella went viral for the wrong reasons on Chinese social media. Photo: Gucci

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Collabs and Drops, Global, Marketing