We were not aware that the graphic design could be linked to triads, says retail store owner
The owner of retail chain G.O.D. apologised yesterday for 'causing misunderstanding' by selling T-shirts and postcards bearing the Chinese characters for '14K' - which is the name of a triad gang.
Douglas Young, co-founder and chief executive of G.O.D., said the design was inspired by a graphic his design team saw on an old film poster or music CD cover. They were unaware of the triad connotations before the police raided G.O.D. two days ago.
'The design reflects the unique cultural value of gold and jewellery shops in Hong Kong,' he said. 'The graphic design resembles the traditional gold plate that the Chinese brides used to wear on their necks. We wanted to make it humorous and it did not occur to us that the term '14K' is equivocal.'
Mr Young, arrested during police raids along with 17 staff members, was released on bail to report to police in about two weeks.
Police said they received no inquiries concerning the T-shirts. About a dozen of the T-shirts had been sold since they went on sale in September and none had sourt a refund.
'I apologise for any inconvenience brought to our staff and my family,' Mr Young said. 'Our company is keen to play with ... themes with a local flavour.'
He said he would not penalise the design team, but the firm would get legal advice before the launch of sensitive designs in future.
'We have adhered to our internal restrictions such as we will not use Nazi or religious symbols,' he said. 'We also look at safety guidelines before launching new products. But it never occurred to us that we should consult the Societies Ordinance.'
He would not comment on the possibility the incident might smear the city's reputation for creativity, but stressed the chain's usual 'playful and vivid' style would stand.
One well-known designer criticised the police raids as overreaction.
Hong Kong Design Centre chairman Freeman Lau Siu-hong said the incident created bad publicity, showing the government did not have a sense of humour. 'It does the public no harm wearing that T-shirt,' Mr Lau said. 'If you see people wearing that T-shirt on the street, you will probably have a good giggle about the black humour.
'It demeans the intelligence of the public if the police believe people will think a person really belongs to a triad gang if he wears the T-shirt.'
Film Directors' Guild honorary permanent president Cheung Tung-joe said the incident would not hurt the film industry, which has made many triad-themed films. 'There is freedom of expression in Hong Kong,' he said. 'We have made a lot of films about triads and the police have not intervened.'
The police raided G.O.D. outlets on Thursday after a newspaper ran a story about the T-shirt design.