Aussie retailers pull Australia Day clothing from sale amid consumer backlash

Three Aussie retailers have pulled Australia Day clothing from sale in recent weeks, amid mass consumer backlash on social media.

The latest brand to come under fire is women’s fashion label ICE, with the retailer yesterday issuing a public apology and removing the Australia Day singlets, which were accused of being sexist, from sale.

The blue singlets featured the phrase “property of an Aussie Boy” with an Australian flag. The shirts were criticised as being sexist, although the brand said it was designed to be a “cute” play on words.

Earlier this month Big W and Aldi recalled controversial Australia Day t-shirts featuring the phrase “EST. 1788”, following claims the shirts were racist. 

All three brands have been heavily criticised online for the t-shirts.

However, some consumers are defending the fashion retailer, with Twitter user Ms Clooney saying “the fun police are out in force” and others saying freedom of speech has taken a hit.

A vocal group called Destroy the Joint, which says it’s a “call to arms for Australians seeking gender equality and civil discourse”, emphasised on Twitter that “women are not property”.

Following the public outcry, ICE posted a statement on its Facebook page yesterday evening saying the t-shirts were being withdrawn from sale.

“This slogan was chosen by our all-female design team. It is supposed to be a light-hearted play on words. Our intention was that it would be interpreted in much the same way as ‘My boyfriend is an Aussie Boy’ or ‘I go out with an Aussie Boy’,” ICE says.

“The use of the word ‘property’ in the context of the garment is in reference with the word ‘my’ as in my partner, my boyfriend, my husband. A great example of this is in the casual context of introducing your partner at a social gathering – in common exchanges one might say ‘Hi guys, this is my girlfriend Cathy’. The word my refers to the concept of belonging to, an association of sorts, and relationship that may exist.

“The top is part of our Australia Day promotional range which is intended to celebrate the Australian spirit. The ‘property of…’ slogan is ubiquitous around the fashion capitals of the world at the moment.”

ICE then went on to “unequivocally” apologise to any customers who had been offended.

Retail Doctor Group chief executive Brian Walker told SmartCompany the brand had made the right decision to withdraw the singlets from sale.

“Retail is essentially about satisfying consumers and if there is enough backlash against any product the retailers are right to withdraw the product because there are implications for brands and the future shopping habits of consumers,” he says.

“The practical reality is they put t-shirts out there and then they haven’t been received well. Social media is more popular than ever and people are expressing their opinions more openly now. The consumer has more power and they can give instant feedback.”

RDG Insights director Katharina Kuehn told SmartCompany social media has given consumers a voice.

“It’s put consumers in a stronger position and it’s right of the brands to withdraw the t-shirts when they’re culturally sensitive topics. Whoever made the decision to make these singlets should have been better informed.”

“Since public attention is on the company’s side, it needs to capture the opportunity and react in a positive way. It’s a great opportunity to listen to consumers via social media. There was equally negative sentiment before it existed, but now they have the chance to embrace it.”

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