Women urge Hong Kong stock market to veto Prada's flotation bid over discrimination allegations.

Dan Gould
  • 6 may 2011

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This article titled “Prada’s attempts to storm Chinese market hit by feminist protesters” was written by Imogen Fox, for The Guardian on Friday 6th May 2011 17.36 UTC

The fashion designer and one-time women’s rights campaigner Miuccia Prada told reporters last year that she believed feminism no longer existed. She may now be rethinking that view.

Attempts by Prada, the fashion house founded by her grandfather and for which she is a leading designer, to court the label-hungry Asian market hit a major setback when dozens of women protested at the company’s flotation on the Hong Kong stock market, citing a dispute between the Italian brand and a senior employee who claims to have been discriminated against on grounds of appearance.

The dispute dates back to 2009, when retail manager Rina Bovrisse was dismissed by the brand. In 2010 she filed a lawsuit alleging that Prada Japan’s CEO, Davide Sesia, had sacked her after she refused his instructions to fire up to 30 members of the retail team because he considered them overweight or unattractive.

Bovrisse also claims that Sesia asked her to lose weight herself and change her hairstyle to fit in more with the brand’s image. Prada responded to Bovrisse’s claims with a vigorous denial and by filing a countersuit stating that the allegations were false. Both cases are ongoing.

The feminists rallied outside the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of Prada, calling on the Hong Kong exchange to veto the brand’s initial public offering (IPO).

Sally Choi, leader of the feminist protesters, said in a letter addressed to the Hong Kong stock exchange: “Since the Hong Kong stock exchange is vested with the power to assess the suitability of potential IPOs, it should also have the authority to prevent companies which are suspected of sex discrimination from filing.” She has also sent a letter to Patrizio Bertelli, the Prada CEO, who is married to Miuccia Prada, but so far the brand has declined to comment.

They have said they will stage further protests if the exchange ignores their stance. Although their position is unlikely to damage Prada’s current run of recordbreaking sales, it is an embarrassment for the design house at a significant time.

Prada’s assault on the Asian market intensified this year with a major catwalk show in Beijing, the first time the Milanese-based brand had shown outside Italy. A recent report by McKinsey predicted that within four years China will become the world’s largest luxury market, worth bn (£16bn), and although the Italian label’s most recent collection – featuring banana prints and maxi stripes – is being snapped up there, Prada will be hoping that this brush with Chinese feminists will not tarnish its reputation. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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