Borderline retail branding: cultural insensitivity or censorious consumers? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 22.04.2015
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Borderline retail branding: cultural insensitivity or censorious consumers?

Pajamas showing a dinosaur wearing a belt with the letters "SS" have been debated on social media this week. But when are retailers playing with fire with German history and when are they just victims of exaggeration?

Germany's most-read newspaper, Bild, was quick to pounce on the children's pajama set earlier this week, which was spotted in the Berlin branch of Irish clothes retailer Primark.

"Tasteless! Primark sells SS pajamas!" the headline read.

In Germany, the letters "SS" are generally still associated with the "Schutzstaffel" - the major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

According to Primark, the "SS" emblazoned on the dinosaur's belt was meant to stand for "Super-saurus."

"We did not intend for any allusion to Nazism," Primark said in a statement, "Nevertheless, we will no longer sell these pajamas, with immediate effect."

Many social media users, too, have scoffed at the tabloid's aspersions.

One consumer named Susanne Schwarz wrote on Facebook: "Do I have to change my name?"

Similarly, Simone Schreiber wrote: "My initials are SS … and can't get a number plate with them! I think it's stupid!! Sometime people should take things less seriously."

"You can really overreact ... what is wrong you? They are PAJAMAS!" Niko Leta posted on Facebook.

A Nazi symbol was also at the center of a Twitter debate last October when Spanish clothes retailer Mango launched a women's blouse sporting tiny lightning bolts, which were compared by some shoppers to the similarly-shaped "Siegrune" sign - a symbol also used by the SS. The use of the "Siegrune" is today banned in Germany.

"Fancy some Nazi chic in the 21st century? Then you might like this SS blouse from Mango...Disgusting!" wrote Twitter user @robertfietzke.

Another, @diana_of_t tweeted: "Shirt with lightning bolt pattern": Nazi-Chique this time at Mango … #wtf #facepalm"

Others, however, responded with a somewhat more tongue-in-cheek approach. Facbook user Martin Sonneborn wrote: "Why does Mango only have this available for women? - There are male Nazis too, no?"

@RylaH90 tweeted: "Harry Potter has such a scar on his forehead. Is he a Nazi now? You can really over exaggerate!"

Despite the mixed reactions on social media, Mango soon apologized for any offense caused.

"The RAYO blouse belongs to a collection inspired by mini-motifs. In the range there are two other models, which feature hearts and stars," Mango said in a statement.

Just months earlier, another Spanish retailer, Zara, also came under fire for what was described by some online users as their "Holocaust" shirt.

Branded online as a "Striped 'sheriff' T-shirt," the children's' garment was met with a host of complaints, comparing it to Jewish prisoners' clothing worn at Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War.

The long-sleeved shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes was also emblazoned with a six-pointed gold star, likening it to the yellow Star of David that Jews were made to wear in public under Nazi rule.

Zara later apologized on Twitter, insisting that the star was "inspired by the sheriff's stars from classic Western films."

The fashion chain, which has 73 stores in Germany and 22 in Israel, was previously criticized in 2007 after it sold a women's bag embroidered with swastikas - most commonly associated nowadays with the Nazis.

The company said the bag had come from an external supplier and the symbol, which is also a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, had not been visible when the product was chosen.

Thor Steiner, a favorite outfitter among the far-right, also caused waves across the Channel last year, after opening a store in the heart of London's Jewish community.

The brand has, in recent years, become synonymous with neo-Nazis, far-right street groups and football hooligans.

A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, a charity that provides security advice for the UK Jewish community, said at the time: "This is a multi-cultural area with very few problems from racism and neo-Nazism and the like. This shop is not welcome here and the sooner it moves on the better."

Thor Steiner clothing is currently banned from the German Federal Parliament, the state parliaments of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony, as well as the football stadiums of Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen.

While many of Germany's social media users are ready to draw a line under what can often be somewhat tenuous links to the country's past, others have also shown that sometimes the smallest references to Nazism can also cause the largest of social media storms.

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