Popular Japanese lifestyle brand Uniqlo has pulled a commercial featuring a 98-year-old US fashion figure off South Korean screens after being accused of mocking victims of wartime sexual slavery.
The company said it had stopped airing the 15-second ad after facing protests against the commercial that seemed to question the testimony of women who said they were forced to work in Japanese military brothels across Asia before and during the second world war.
The fault was in the subtitling by the Korean arm of the lifestyle retailer where elderly fashion celebrity Iris Apfel on being asked how she used to dress as a teenager, innocuously responds: “I can’t remember things that happened more than 80 years ago.”
This reflects the timeline to be about 1939, towards the end of Japan’s brutal colonial rule over the Korean peninsula, where the period is still bitterly resented.
Koreans are vehemently protesting the campaign; lining up outside Uniqlo stores. The retailer, which has 186 stores in South Korea, has itself been one of the highest profile targets, while Japanese carmakers’ sales dropped nearly 60 per cent year-on-year in September.
In response, Uniqlo pulled the ad in South Korea and from its YouTube account days after it first appeared, but said it had not intended to cause offence.
The company denied the allegations in a statement, saying the text was altered from the original to highlight the age gap between the individuals and show that its fleeces were for people ‘across generations’.
“The advertisement in question is a part of a global advertisement series to mark the 25th anniversary of fleece and it has no links to any political or religious agendas, belief or organisations, but we decided to stop airing the ad as we take it seriously that many people felt uncomfortable,” Uniqlo said in the statement.