Spanish fashion brand Zara, seeking to avoid becoming embroiled in controversy over protests in Hong Kong, issued a statement on Chinese social media expressing support for China’s sovereignty over the Asian financial hub.
Zara, owned by the world’s biggest clothing retailer, Inditex, made its statement late on Monday after Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao asked if the closure of four Hong Kong Zara shops on Monday was in support of a student strike, prompting comment from millions of mainland social media users.
“Zara Company supports the integrity of the territorial sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China and has consistently supported the one country, two systems.
“Zara has never supported strikes and has never published any statements relations to this or any actions related to it,” the statement said.
The brand became a top trending topic on Weibo, with one hashtag “Zara statement” viewed more than 170 million times as of Tuesday morning.
A source close to Inditex said on Tuesday that some Zara stores in Hong Kong had been forced to delay opening on Monday because staff had trouble getting to work due to transport problems linked to the protests, but that all Zara stores in Hong Kong opened eventually on Monday.
Thousands of Hong Kong university and school students boycotted class on Monday and rallied peacefully for democracy, following a weekend marred by some of the worst violence since unrest over a controversial extradition bill escalated more than three months ago.
Shops in Hong Kong have often shut their doors when protests are taking place nearby and foreign brands are under increasing pressure from Chinese consumers and regulators to fall in line on contentious issues around Chinese sovereignty and its territorial claims.
Inditex has hundreds of shops in China, including other fashion brands such as Massimo Dutti and Bershka, alongside Zara. China is second only to its domestic market, Spain, in number of shops for the retailer.
Many Western fashion brands have been forced to clarify their positions on Chinese sovereignty as the protests fuel nationalist fervour on social media.
Last month, a number of Chinese brand ambassadors of fashion labels from Coach to Givenchy severed ties with the companies over products which they said violated China’s sovereignty by identifying Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries.
Last year, Zara was criticised on Chinese social media for placing Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China sees as a breakaway province, in a pull-down list of countries on its Chinese website.