Blog: Leonie BarrieBacklash of Olympic proportions

Leonie Barrie | 15 April 2008

Who would have thought that the chaotic and controversial relay of the Olympic torch last week through the streets of London, Paris and San Francisco could have an unexpected backlash for the apparel industry?

In an article posted on just-style yesterday, Mike Flanagan argues that retailers would be wise to heed the fury of pro-Tibet activists who took the opportunity to disrupt the torch’s procession with a high profile protest against China.

There’s a very real danger that a backlash against China could lead Western consumers to boycott clothing and footwear made there, he believes – with retailers well advised to seek alternative sources of supply before any action takes hold.

But hot on the heels of this article, it seems the protestors have also stirred up calls for another boycott. Only this time the tables have turned.

Chinese consumers are being urged to vent their anger at the French rally, where the Olympic torch was wrenched from the arms of a disabled Chinese athlete, by shunning French products.

Apparently messages circulated on cellular phones and Chinese Internet blog sites are urging the world's fastest-growing major economy to “Show them the power of the Chinese people.” And to do this, it is suggested they stay away from French supermarket Carrefour, which has around 100 branches in China, and avoid goods from luxury brands like Christian Dior and LVMH.

It’s a sign of the times that Chinese consumers are now an economic force to be reckoned with.

But how does the spending power of Western consumers, for whom a large proportion of what they buy comes from China, compare with the huge and as yet untapped potential of the billions of Chinese who are emerging as consumers in their own right? The retail battleground is definitely less clear-cut than it used to be.

COMMENT: Olympic torch fires up China sourcing debate


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