‘Bat Fried Rice’ shirt promoted by now-former Lululemon staffer draws backlash

Company, artist, former art director share apologies or acknowledgment, according to published reports

A carved wooden sign on the outside of a Lululemon store.
A carved wooden sign on the outside of a Lululemon store. (Getty Images/file)

Lululemon Athletica, a company perhaps best known for its trendy-but-pricey yoga pants and leggings, is now under fire after some Instagram activity from one of its former employees attracted negative attention Sunday, according to published reports.

Trevor Fleming, who was an art director for the company, shared a link on his personal Instagram account, promoting a $60 “Bat Fried Rice” shirt, NBC News reported.

On the front of the top, you can see a small set of bat wings and red chopsticks. On the back, there’s a Chinese rice box with bat wings around it, and the words “no thank you.” That “no thank you” phrase appears to be on the shirt’s sleeve, as well, according to a video posted by The Hill, which contained an image of the controversial shirt.

The shirt was designed by California artist Jess Sluder, NBC News said, adding that Sluder was otherwise unaffiliated with Lululemon.

People apparently saw Fleming’s Instagram link and started flocking to Lululemon’s official Instagram account in anger, calling the shirt racist.

Asian Americans have reported increased racism during this coronavirus pandemic.

The New York Times, sourcing a Reuters count, said more than 1,000 comments were made on Lululemon’s page in regards to Fleming’s online activity.

The company responded in the comments as well, saying the shirt wasn’t theirs, and Fleming was “no longer an employee” at Lululemon, according to NBC News. Fleming has since apologized for promoting the shirt and he wrote on Instagram that he did “not participate in any part of its creation,” NBC said.

Fleming reiterated this message in an email, stating that while he did not design the shirt, he acknowledged that sharing a link to it “was wrong.”

“It is something I deeply regret, and my eyes have been opened to the profound ripple effect that this mistake has had,” Fleming wrote to NBC, as you can read in this report. "I apologize to those that have been hurt by this ... I commit to standing up against racist or discriminatory behavior and will work hard to ensure that my personal and professional contributions in the future are kind, inclusive and supportive.”

Sluder did not respond to NBC News’ request for further comment. The Times reported an apology via Instagram, which we’ll include below.

Lululemon, for its part, has not issued a public apology.

“At Lululemon, our culture and values are core to who we are, and we take matters like this extremely seriously,” a spokesperson wrote in an email sourced in the NBC News report. “The image and the post were inappropriate and inexcusable and we do not tolerate this behavior.”

We have reached out to the company in regards to an official apology, as well.

Some are still calling for a more public apology.

The hashtag #BoycottLululemon has garnered quite a few tweets.

Here’s just a handful of the negative reactions we found on Twitter as of Wednesday evening.

All original posts involving the T-shirt and links to it appear to have been taken down.

Early on, many of the patients at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists believe it may have jumped from bats to another animal -- and then infected humans.

About the Author:

Michelle is the Managing Editor of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which writes for all of the company's news websites.