The shirts, which retail for $25, hit the shelves this week and carry caricatures of slant-eyed Asians in conical hats along with such slogans as "Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs Can Make It White" and "Wok-N-Bowl — Let the Good Times Roll — Chinese Food & Bowling." Another shirt features a smiling Buddha figure with the slogan "Abercrombie and Fitch Buddha Bash — Get Your Buddha on the Floor."
"It is not and never has been our intention to offend anyone," Abercrombie spokesman Hampton Carney said.
"These graphic T-shirts were designed with the sole purpose of adding humor and levity to our fashion line. Since some customers have been offended by their content, we are pulling these shirts from our stores."
Asian groups in California reacted with anger this week after the shirts appeared in local Abercrombie stores, with local activists saying their cartoonish representation of Asian figures carried a racist message.
"This is really blatant. It is just like the 1800s," — said the Rev. Norman Fong, program director at San Francisco's Chinatown Community Development Center.
"The company has been totally insensitive, and people are pretty upset."
Carney said the popular youth clothing maker had believed the shirts might appeal to Asian-American consumers, and was surprised by the hostile reception they received.
"The thought was that everyone would love them, — especially the Asian community. We thought they were cheeky, irreverent and funny and everyone would love them. But that has not been the case."
Carney was unable to estimate how many shirts would be recalled from Abercrombie's roughly 500 stores nationwide, although he said a number of stores had not yet taken delivery of the items.
Abercrombie & Fitch, based in New Albany, Ohio, has been the target of consumer complaint before. In 1998 Mothers against Drunk Driving protested a two-page advertising spread entitled "Drinking 101" that contained recipes for alcoholic drinks, while other parents have complained that the youth-oriented company frequently features overtly sexy photos in its advertising layouts.