'We apologise, we messed up': Big Blue destroys 'teacher's pet' T-shirts

07 January 2020 - 18:18 By PHILANI NOMBEMBE
The controversial T-shirts sold by Big Blue.
The controversial T-shirts sold by Big Blue.
Image: Facebook

A batch of T-shirts sold by Big Blue stores with the words "water polo" and "teachers' pet" on them have been destroyed after an outcry over them being offensive.

James Robertson, founder and MD of Big Blue, told TimesLIVE on Tuesday that amid calls for a boycott of stores, his team had realised that the wording of the shirts was insensitive.

Commentators on social media quickly linked the wording used to the sex scandal that rocked Cape Town private school Bishops (Diocesan College) in 2019, which saw water polo instructor Fiona Viotti resign under a cloud.

Viotti, 30, had intimate relationships with pupils. An investigation by Bishops found she engaged in “sexual misconduct with at least five pupils” while employed by the school between 2013 and 2019.

This was in breach of the school's code of professional conduct for teaching staff and the code of professional ethics issued by South African Council of Educators.

Child protection activist Luke Lamprecht said the T-shirts were on sale over the festive season. In a series a of questions posted on Facebook, he asked: “Now, a few things come to mind: disbelief - is this true or are we reading too much into this?

"What did the brief for this design sound like and/or what were the 'creative discussions' entered into to come up with and to approve this?

Luke Lamprecht took to social media to call out Big Blue.
Luke Lamprecht took to social media to call out Big Blue.

"Was it Big Blue who designed it? If not, what would make them buy and stock this over the massive shopping frenzy over the festive season?

"What did shoppers think when they saw it and who picked it up?

"Who bought it, for whom and in what context will they use it? Was it bought as a 'gift' or for themselves?

“What will the responses of people, both known and passing strangers, be? Will they laugh, be shocked into silence or call them out?

"Most importantly, how do the Parktown [Boys High] and Bishops victims feel about now being made into pets?”

By Tuesday afternoon the post had been shared over 50 times and 166 people had commented on it, with most expressing their disgust at Big Blue. 

Facebook user Stephanie Abrams Blair responded: “Big Blue taking distasteful, contentious behaviour to a new low. Bye bye #BigBlue.” 

Lisa Angela Jane, another Facebook user, commented: “Yes, we don’t shop there any more. Evidently we have to hurt people’s pockets hard before they start paying attention. It’s a massive NO from me too.” 

WARNING. Long and triggering post to follow about my reflection on day 1 back at work. I arrived home to a message from...

Posted by Luke Lamprecht on Monday, January 6, 2020

Robertson said the T-shirts had been destroyed and the company would put policies in place to ensure that this is not repeated.

“We apologise unreservedly. We’ve been making tens of thousands of T-shirts that make people happy, and this time around we just got that one wrong in a rush for Christmas," he said.

"The T-shirts have been pulled out and destroyed. And obviously if someone has already bought the T-shirt we will happily refund them."

Robertson said he had tried to contact Lamprecht. “But I have had no response from him yet.”

He said the T-shirt had only been in “select" stores. “But as I say, they have been pulled out and destroyed by my colleagues when they first heard of it.

"We apologise, we messed up. It was of course not intended to be offensive. It was a weak attempt at humour and a bad judgment.”