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Uniqlo removes controversial ad

Oct 22,2019
이미지뷰
Left: A Uniqlo commercial features 98-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel and 13-year-old fashion designer Kheris Rogers. Right: A video made in the same style by a 24-year-old university student and 90-year-old “comfort woman” surnamed Keum. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
Uniqlo on Monday pulled an advertisement from Korean screens after it was accused of making an oblique reference to the Japanese colonial period (1910-45).

The controversial commercial for Uniqlo fleece jackets features 98-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel talking to 13-year-old designer Kheris Rogers. In the ad, Rogers asks Apfel how she used to dress as a teenager. Apfel replies, “Oh my God. I can’t remember that far back.”

In Korea, Apfel’s comment was subtitled, “I can’t remember things that happened more than 80 years ago.” The reference to 80 years was interpreted by some viewers as a reference to so-called comfort women, victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery.

Uniqlo stopped showing the advertisement on TV on Monday, after it scrapped it on digital platforms on Sunday. The commercial launched on Oct. 12.

Following the backlash, Uniqlo on Friday said its intention was to demonstrate that Uniqlo jumpers can be worn by anyone regardless of age. The brand stressed that it did not intend to deliver a political message.

This is the second time the brand has come under fire in Korea this year, after a boycott of Japanese brands in Korea earlier this year, following Tokyo’s decision to restrict exports to Korea in early July.

Independent lawmaker Lee Yong-ju on Monday said the government needs to take action against foreign corporations that deny history.

“A foreign company released an advertisement that seems to mock comfort women,” said Lee at a general inspection of the Ministry of SMEs and Startups on Monday.

Minister of SMEs and Startups Park Young-sun agreed that “it is a very aggravating event” and vowed to discuss the issue with related ministries.

Analysts downplayed the controversy.

“I think Uniqlo gets too much attention [in Korea] because of its size,” said Seo Yong-gu, a professor of business at Sookmyung Women’s University. “It seems like the company’s intention was just to highlight that its clothes can be worn by different generations.”

A video in the same style as the Uniqlo ad was released online on Monday. In the short clip, a 23-year-old student asks 89-year-old comfort woman victim Yang Geum-deuk, “How tough was it when you were my age?”

Yang replies, “I can never forget that horrible past.”

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]