Pro-democracy clothing brand Chickeeduck to quit Hong Kong

·2-min read

A Hong Kong clothing company that supported democracy with colourful, tongue-in-cheek cartoon designs announced Thursday it will shutter its shops next year citing "unprecedented harassment" from officials and political opponents.

Cute cartoon animals have been at the heart of Chickeeduck since its founding in 1990, and as democracy protests convulsed the city in recent years it embraced designs that subtly backed the movement.

China is currently remoulding Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image using a national security law that has crushed dissent, and is pursuing a campaign to purge any individual or company deemed unpatriotic.

"In the past 18 months Chickeeduck has been suffering unprecedented harassment by unidentifiable malicious forces," owner Herbert Chow wrote in a statement announcing the company would quit the Hong Kong market by the second half of 2022.

"Instead of wasting time, energy and resources to fight against the unidentified malicious forces, which have caused personal risks against the company's staff, artists and local collaboration brands, we would rather take one step back and exit."

The statement cited investigations of factories and suppliers on the Chinese mainland, stores struggling to renew leases, threatening phone calls to staff as well as investigations and spot-checks by multiple Hong Kong government departments.

At first glance, Chickeeduck's contraband cartoons might seem innocuous.

They include cushions with yellow birds holding umbrellas alongside "I love HK" speech bubbles, and canvas bags featuring five ducklings swimming on one side and a flag-bearing chicken on the other.

But for those who know Hong Kong's recent tumultuous politics, the popular designs were a clear nod to the city's democracy movement, which is now being swept away by China's crackdown on dissent.

Chow made no secret of his messaging.

The tote bag, for example, was a reference to the popular protest slogan "Five demands, not one less".

Other items feature unmistakable cartoon likenesses of pro-democracy protesters showing the yellow hard hats and gas masks they wore while facing off against the police.

In an interview with AFP earlier this year, Chow detailed the troubles factories and suppliers were facing and said he was baffled that such designs would be deemed illegal.

"I don't see what's wrong with the message," he said.

su-jta/qan

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