Old Navy T-Shirts Butcher Asian Culture


Asian expert Tian has taken Old Navy to task for their apparent lack of cultural knowledge in the creation of several t-shirts which butcher culture such as associating the Japanese rice wine sake with the Great Wall of China and describing a black t-shirt with images of Asian men in black masks with a Ninja star as a Karate t-shirt rather than, correctly, a Ninjutsu t-shirt. Seems America's great melting pot has forgotten the rest of the world has many varied, distinctive cultures that don't wish to be melted away by American marketing tricks. Tian does tell us Old Navy customer service reponded kindly and apologetically when the Sake t-shirt was brought to their attention writing, "It was not our intention to cause any offense. Please accept our apologies for any concern created by our product."

by Steve Hall    Aug-24-05   Click to Comment   
Topic: Brands   

Enjoy what you've read? Subscribe to Adrants Daily and receive the daily contents of this site each day along with free whitepapers.



If Old Navy was TRULY sorry for this oversight, instead of
"It was not our intention to cause any offense. Please accept our apologies for any concern created by our product."
how about taking the products off shelves?

Posted by: Matt on August 24, 2005 1:27 PM

Its not as if any GAP brand has ever been sensitive to Asian culture. If they were they wouldnt operate sweatshops etc.

Unfortunately this reeks of the typical ignorance associated with the US in general.


Posted by: Dario Meli on August 24, 2005 1:56 PM

Straw dogs, to some extent. We're so quick to criticize ourselves for lack of cultural 'sensitivity', but don't take into account its counterparts overseas.

I remember back in the day, backpacking through Europe, that baseball jackets and t-shirts with pseudo-Americanisms emblazoned on them were all the rage. I don't remember exactly what they said, but it consisted of silly, non-grammatical pseudo-english language clichés of American culture. Much like a lot of the Japanese translation silliness in the genre of "all your bases are belong to us".

In addition, there was a rip-off brand of youth clothing called U.C.L.A, which all the kids pronounced "ooklah", and they had no idea of the acronym's true significance. I am sure no royalties were paid to UCLA, by the way.

On the other hand, most of the college graduates of the last 20 years or so couldn't find their own country on a map, let alone any you'd name in East Asia, so I am not surprised at this kind of thing.

Posted by: Stevie on August 24, 2005 2:16 PM

Well, to be fair DM, cultural ignorance is not monopolized by the US. I'm somewhat well-traveled and have found that stupidity, ignorance, and perceptions of cultural superiority are to be found wherever people are. The only difference is the American SOV in global commerce means gaffes get spread around the world. Some of the truly charmless beliefs I've encountered in say, Portugal or Turkey, don't get promulgated around the world in quite the same way.

Posted by: CobraCommander on August 24, 2005 2:26 PM

If Old Navy should apologize for anything it should be for the mass production of t-shirts that reinforce the self-involved kitschification of foreign cultures as cocktail party conversation starters.


Posted by: Worker #3116 on August 24, 2005 3:19 PM

maybe they should just claim intentional ironic postmodernism instead of ignorance. It could become the new PR catchall response after you get hit with the insensitive ignorance card. “our intention was to poke fun at the awareness we all share about how we used to lump Asian culture into one big laundry bag.”

Posted by: Juan on August 24, 2005 3:48 PM

here are two sites that focus on this type of problem:




Posted by: tian on August 24, 2005 5:01 PM

Like Stevie said, other country's marketers do the same exact thing with the English language/culture. For a good, brief explanation of this, check out:


Also look at the main site, it's hilarious.


Posted by: Mike on August 24, 2005 5:03 PM

sake is spelled with a lowercase "s", it is never capitalized as you did in the item posted above. Do you spell wine as Wine, or beer as Beer? or milk as Milk? No. Sake is spelled "sake" lowercase all the way. Of course, you were just following what TIAN had posted. he made a mistake. First he criticized Old Navy for not getting with the program, Asian-style, and then he went off the program himself spelling sake with a capital S. never!

Posted by: danny bloom on August 25, 2005 2:33 AM

Well, it's easy to make mistakes with lowercase and uppercase, and in this case, it was just a minor mistake, no big deal, and it has been corrected now. Sake will now be spelled with a lowercase "s"....... we learn something new everyday. At least I do!

Posted by: danny bloom on August 25, 2005 3:29 AM

Crappy, mass produced shirts that advertise fake places for ironic hipsters aren't to be taking so seriously. It's a stupid t-shirt. If you want to be upset about cultural idiocy, bitch about our education system. Or the lack of quality programing on tv. Or the fact that Old Navy hires ugly chicks to work in its stores. Yeah, that's right, horroibly ugly chicks. What a sick, twisted evil company.

Posted by: tuorteroglik on August 25, 2005 6:33 AM

Well it was kinda hard not to make the correction after Danny contacted us FIVE different ways to make his point. While it was certainly an error, it's always enjoyable to see what sort of things work people up:-)

Posted by: Steve Hall on August 25, 2005 10:04 AM

Not shoppinbg there. Urban outfitters pulled the same kind of crap not too long ago.

Now what I want to know. Is where was this shirt MADE. China? That's be a riot!

Posted by: Susan Murray on August 25, 2005 11:13 AM

Actually I do write 'milk' as 'Milk' sometimes.... such as when 'Milk' begins a sentence...hate to nitpick...but people in glass blogs....

Posted by: Jeff on August 25, 2005 3:41 PM

The view is better from a glass house:-)

Posted by: Steve Hall on August 25, 2005 4:20 PM

Interesting how so many people can take offence at something so insignificant as a T-Shirt. I too must say that I am shocked. Not because of the writing on the shirt, or the lack of "respect" for other cultures, but rather, because regardless of the origin of the shirt in question, and regardless of the content, free speach, applied in any circumstance affords the individual the right to create such a shirt, and another individual the right to wear it.

To the proud americans out there, get a grip, chill out and dont be so defensive.
To the asian population, relax, dont be so touchy about your culture, from my experience, you too have your own problems.

In my personal opinion, having dealt extensively with both cultures, and having an external 3rd party viewpoint, you both could learn to do a bit better research, and would do well to learn about each other rather than let something as insignificant as a T-shirt get in the way.

Quote of the day: Pride is the mother of arrogance..

Best of luck, from an Australian

Posted by: Geo on August 25, 2005 8:48 PM

I find it interesting that no one has mentioned anything about the lack of business ethics.

Let me give you an example,

I don’t know if you remember about the Ford Motors and Firestone tires incident back in 2001. At the beginning there were several Ford Explorer SUVs had same type of accidents. They were ruled simply as “automobile accidents”. After more people complained about it, Department of Transportation got involved and revealed that majority of these accidents were caused by poor quality tires that were manufactured by Firestone. Further more, Ford Motors knew about it and never cared nor tried to fix the problem, because the number of accidents was insignificant. What happened after that? Multi-billion lawsuits were filed against Ford and Firestone. Both companies’ stocks went down.

Of course automobile death and idiot t-shirts are nothing alike on the surface. But the common bond between the two is lack of business ethics.

Consumers should not worry about if their purchase would somehow harm or humiliate them in the future.

If mistakes on a t-shirt could be easily dismissed as one person had “a stick in the butt”, then many other companies could use the same logic to justify their wrongdoings.

Just imaging what would happen if you or your child ate food with broken glass pieces in it, the food manufacturer would just say “chew around the broken glass pieces, you fool”.

Posted by: tian on August 25, 2005 9:25 PM

A little over PC? These people must wake up in cold sweats. Give me a break. Get over it. I could care less, and I'm Chinese.

Posted by: Jenn on August 26, 2005 2:54 PM

Tuorteroglik Your an idiot.

Posted by: Angelface on August 31, 2005 2:07 AM

who gives a shit it is just t-shirts, they butcher every culture, its all gag shirts anyways

Posted by: John on September 11, 2005 2:57 PM

I work at an Old Navy and I had questioned that to a coworker also. But I dropped it not knowing the facts. This has shed some light on the subject for me but I still like my job and defend myself working there all the time. This is how I put it, if all those people who work in factories across the world had the same oppurtunity to work inside the store, don't you think they would take it too? I'm just trying to survive and get rent paid like evryone else. Gap Inc. is a very big corporation and I know that they will definately be more careful in the future. One thing I like about working there is all the diversity that walks into my store. It is too bad for their recent mistakes.

Posted by: maria on September 20, 2005 4:03 PM

This is what I dislike about most Asian people. As a whole, we tend to take offense more easily.

Posted by: Yumiko on September 28, 2005 9:38 PM

I work at Old Navy and I'm not some horribly deformed ugly chick. Shut up.

Posted by: Brittany on March 24, 2006 12:35 AM

haha i work at old navy to and we have the hottest college girls working here so..u must live in an ugly place

Posted by: adam on June 28, 2007 7:54 PM