Versace China
Donatella Versace walks down the catwalk after her Versace presentation in New York (Photo: Reuters / Allison Joyce)

Luxury fashion brand Versace was forced to issue a public apology in China following a massive backlash over a couple of its products that were being sold in the country. Chinese citizens called out the company on social media following the release of a t-shirt and hoodie that misprinted both Hong Kong and Macao as separate countries that were not part of China.

The scandal became viral over the weekend after a photo of Versace's t-shirt and hoodie spread on Chinese social media. The print on the shirts featured different city-country pairs such as Milan-Italy, New York-USA, Barcelona-Spain, and Paris-France.

However, instead of printing Hong Kong and Macau as part of China, the shirt only showed Hong kong-Hong Kong and Macau-Macau. Both are currently special administrative regions of China, which means that they are not considered their own countries.

Following the backlash, Versace posted an apology on its official Sina Weibo account stating that it was sorry for the design mistake. The fashion brand also vowed to destroy all of its unsold merchandise and to pull the misprinted clothes from its online and offline retail channels. Versace reiterated in its post that it respects China's territorial and national sovereignty.

Prior to the apology, the issue had received national attention, with the Weibo hashtag regarding the issue receiving more than 510 million views. Versace immediately became trending on the Chinese search engine Baidu, getting more than 6.3 million searches.

Apart from the misprinted shirts, Versace has also been receiving some criticism over its overall business practices. The company has also been called out on its official website's listing of Hong Kong and Macau as separate entities of China under its "find a store" section.

The scandal has caused Versace's Chinese brand ambassador, Yang Mi, to terminate her contract with the fashion brand. The Chinese actress, which has over 104.9 million followers on Weibo, publicly condemned Versace's actions, calling it "damaging" to China's sovereignty and its territorial integrity. Yang's company stated on Weibo on Versace's actions was offensive and that they have chosen to terminate their relationship with the firm.

The latest incident is a reflection of China's increasingly strict policy over how foreign companies describe and categorize its different territories, particularly Hong Kong and Macau.

Last year, US fashion brand Gap also faced similar backlash following the printing of a shirt that showed an "incorrect" map of China. Other companies, such as Marriott and Delta Airlines, also faced criticism last year over the way they treated China's sovereignty claims.