Nike reportedly halted a shoe release in China after its co-designer supported Hong Kong protesters

According to a report, Nike is pulling shoes in China made with a brand that waded into politically sensitive waters.
According to a report, Nike is pulling shoes in China made with a brand that waded into politically sensitive waters.
Image: Reuters/Denis Balibouse
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Nike canceled the release of a shoe in China after its co-designer offered a gesture of support on Instagram for the Hong Kong protesters, according to the Financial Times (paywall).

The shoe is part of Nike’s ongoing collaboration with Japanese fashion label Undercover, and the report says Chinese retailers have been pulling it from sale without explanation. YYSports, one of Nike’s retail partners in China, posted on social media that it got an “urgent notice” from Nike to halt the release of the shoe. Another vendor, Douniu, removed all Undercover products for “special reasons,” offering no additional clarification. But the FT notes that the apparent halt to the shoe’s sale comes following backlash from Chinese social media users after the brand posted an image to its Instagram account of Hong Kong protesters with the slogan “no extradition to China.”

Thousands of people flooded the streets in Hong Kong this month to speak out against a proposed law that would have allowed the city to extradite people suspect in crimes to mainland China for trial. Hong Kong’s standing in relation to China has remained a politically sensitive issue since the former British colony returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Opponents of the extradition law, which has since been indefinitely suspended, said it would undermine the independence of Hong Kong’s legal system, and would threaten the city’s unique legal status. China’s government, meanwhile, was evidently not happy about the protests, censoring them heavily on the mainland.

A Nike spokesperson confirmed that the company had pulled products from sale in China. “Based on feedback from Chinese consumers, we have withdrawn from China a small number of products that were designed by a collaborator,” the company said in a statement.

The Instagram post is no longer up on Undercover’s account. The FT says Undercover deleted it, calling it an “individual opinion” that was posted by mistake.

We have reached out to a representative of Undercover for comment and will update this story with any reply.

Like other sports companies, Nike looks to China as one of its best opportunities for growth. The country’s sports market is booming as more people become involved in fitness and adopt sportswear as fashion.

Operating in China as a foreign business isn’t always easy, however, particularly as it can depend on navigating delicate political issues. Companies such as Marriott, Zara, and Delta have faced rebuke for referring to areas including Taiwan, Tibet, and Hong Kong as independent countries. Mercedes-Benz has apologized for quoting the Dalai Lama, who China regards as a separatist.

The Nike shoe in question was a limited-release model. The small number of potential sales lost might not be its greatest concern.

This story has been updated with comment from Nike.