As the world celebrated International Women’s Day with stories of powerful women and messages of confidence and self-acceptance, one brand took its marketing efforts too far. On March 8, Chinese athleisure label Maia Active landed in hot water after uploading a controversial WeChat post, titled “This 38, Shut Up.”
In the article, the leggings maker wrote that “radical feminism is not a good idea” and warned against opinions becoming polarized, “otherwise, how can we talk about new changes when girls grow up?” The brand also stated, “It’s really undisciplined to engage in confrontation.”
Many female netizens expressed disappointment in the label for what they saw as hypocrisy and a dismissal of their perspectives. One Weibo user commented, “Misogynistic, yet making money from women, what a shrewd plan,” while another wondered whether the editor was male. Several disgruntled customers posted screenshots of their returned orders and called on others to boycott the brand.
Maia Active claimed in an apology letter that the intention of the March 8 campaign had been to encourage people to preach less to women and give women the space to freely express themselves.
“We didn’t put proper thought or consideration into the tweets’ content and tone, which upset many,” Maia Active wrote in the letter. It pledged to convey its views “more cautiously, accurately and positively” in the future.
The Jing Take
Founded in 2016, Shanghai-based Maia Active is best known for designing fashionable activewear tailor-made for Asian women’s bodies. In 2017, the DTC brand launched its signature waist-cinching pants — which went on to rank first in the fitness pants category during Tmall’s 618 Shopping Festival in 2020 and 2021 — and reportedly raised nearly 15.7 million (100 million RMB) in a series C round of financing in 2021.
What’s most surprising about this scandal is that it came from a company run by women (90 percent of its employees are female) for women. In an interview with local media outlet 36Kr for Women’s Day 2022, Maia Active co-founder Lisa Ou plainly acknowledged the difficulties this demographic faces. “I think most people know what they want, but there are too many ideological burdens and concepts that hold women back in life,” she said. “Maia Active acts as their best friend and companion, encouraging them to enjoy the beauty of sports and live the way they want.”
However, freedom and gender equality can only be achieved by challenging the status quo, changing entrenched attitudes, and even getting confrontational at times. By trying to stop “extreme feminism,” Maia Active appears ignorant of the reasons women fight so hard for their rights — sexual violence, workplace discrimination, and unfair societal pressures being a few — and goes against its own values of uplifting women.
Telling a woman to shut up is never a good idea. With Chinese women being one of the most influential consumer groups in the world, marketing to them requires empathizing with their issues, empowering them to use their voice, and aligning words with actions so as to not be deemed superficial or disingenuous. Losing this cohort’s favor could be a costly move, especially when there are plenty of athleisure alternatives to pick from.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.