joint report by the Boston Consulting Group and Retailers Association of India.

While infections were low during the winter, the past few weeks have seen cases rising to staggering levels in many parts of the country. Right now, it looks as though many people will be working from home for most of 2021 too.

For Ritu Gorai, who runs a moms network in Mumbai, that means she has barely shopped at all, instead using accessories like scarves, jewelry and glasses to jazz up her look and add a little polish.

For Sanshe Bhatia, an elementary schoolteacher, it has meant trading her long kurtas or formal trousers and blouses for caftans and leggings. In order to encourage her class of 30 kids to get dressed in the morning rather than attending lessons in their pajamas, she takes care to look neat and makes sure her long hair is brushed properly.

into a tailspin,” interviews with a range of Parisians suggest a compromise of sorts had been reached.

When Xavier Romatet, the dean of the Institut Français de la Mode, France’s foremost fashion school, went back to work, he didn’t wear a suit, but he did wear a white shirt under a navy blue cashmere sweater and beige chinos, as he would at home. He paired his outfit with sneakers by Veja, a French eco-friendly brand.

Similarly, Anne Lhomme, the creative director of Saint Louis, the luxury tableware brand, dresses the same whether remotely or in person. A favorite look, she said, includes a camel-colored cashmere poncho “designed by a friend, Laurence Coudurier, for Poncho Gallery” and loosefitting plum silk pants. Also lipstick, earrings and four Swahili rings she found in Kenya.

light blue or white shirts, which I buy at Emile Lafaurie or online from Charles Tyrwhitt, with a round-collar sweater if it’s cold” — and, from the waist down, “Uniqlo pants in stretch fabric.”

And Sophie Fontanel, a writer and former fashion editor at Elle, said, “I am often barefoot at home, alone, wearing a very pretty dress.”

Daphné Anglès

Fifth, as well as high-fashion labels, have focused on bright satin, silk and linen shirts with bow ties or stand-up collars, striped patterns or gathered sleeves. The trend for such showy tops has led to a boom in clothing subscription services.

One such platform, AirCloset, announced that 450,000 users had subscribed in October 2020, three times more than in the same period in 2019. Often users request tops only (one bottom item is usually included), and there is now a limit of three in any one order.

“Customers prefer brighter colors to basics such as navy or beige for online meetings, or they prefer asymmetric design tops,” said Mari Nakano, the AirCloset spokeswoman. About 40 percent of subscribers are working mothers for whom the subscription service saved time because they didn’t have to be bothered with washing. They just put the tops in a bag, return them and then wait for the next package to arrive with their new items.

Hisako Ueno

Ushatava, an independent label of sleek, geometrically tailored sleek designs in mostly muted natural colors. It was founded in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Ural Mountains that in the last few years has turned into a Russian fashion hub. 12Storeez, another rising brand from Yekaterinburg, saw its turnover balloon by 35 percent over the last year, even as the market overall shrank by a quarter, said Ivan Khokhlov, one of the founders.

Nastya Gritskova, the head of a P.R. agency in Moscow, said the effect of the pandemic was that for the first time in the Russian capital people stopped “paying attention at who wears what.” Yet last fall, when the government eased coronavirus-related restrictions, things started going back to normal.

“There isn’t a pandemic that can make Russian women stop thinking about how to look beautiful,” she said.

Ivan Nechepurenko


Elisabetta Povoledo, Ruth Maclean, Mady Camara, Flávia Milhorance, Shalini Venugopal Bhagat, Daphné Anglès, Hisako Ueno and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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Prince Philip, Style Icon

There is a moment in the first season of “The Crown” when the actor Matt Smith, as the perennially tetchy consort of Queen Elizabeth II, bristles at the constraints of his job. With a case of lockjaw severe enough to cause concern for his molars, Mr. Smith portrays the Duke of Edinburgh (whom the queen would not make a prince until five years after she succeeded to the throne) as an arch complainer, a man who views the 20th-century monarchy as little more than “a coat of paint” on a crumbling Empire.

Prince Philip, who died at age 99 on April 9, may have been wrapped in a cloak of dramatic hooey to become a character in the hit Netflix series. Yet the role, as written, is rooted in established fact.

Headstrong by reputation, opinionated, notoriously brusque (and often, in public, misogynistic and racist), Prince Philip was also in important ways the model of a company man. By the time he stepped down from his official royal duties in August 2017, he had spent seven decades obediently working for the Firm, a term for the royal family credited to the Queen’s father, King George VI. Fulfilling the requirements of a job for which there is no precise standard, unless you consider second fiddle a job description, the prince slogged through a staggering 22,219 solo public engagements over his long lifetime. In doing so, he navigated the most challenging of corporate dress codes for more than 65 years.

The brief was clear from the outset: The queen’s consort should be impeccable yet unassuming, irreproachable in style without drawing your eye away from the one of the richest, and certainly the most famous, woman on earth. If the clothes Queen Elizabeth II wore in public were engineered to meet programmatic requirements — bright colors and lofty hats to make this diminutive human easy to spot; symbolically freighted jewelry (the Japanese pearl choker, the Burmese ruby tiara, the Obama brooch!); symbols and metaphors embroidered onto her gowns — those of Prince Philip were tailored to keep him faultlessly inconspicuous.

As a clotheshorse, he had certain natural advantages, of course.

“He was staggeringly good-looking, tall and athletic,” said Nick Sullivan, the creative director of Esquire. “That never does any harm when it comes to wearing clothes.”

Beyond that, though, were a series of confident and knowing choices. For decades, the prince’s suits were made for him by John N. Kent, a Savile Row artisan who began his tailoring apprenticeship at 15. The prince’s shirts came from Stephens Brothers, his bespoke shoes from the century-and-a-half old boot maker John Lobb. In the neatly folded white handkerchief Prince Philip habitually squared off in his breast pocket (another was kept in his trousers) could be seen a telling contrast with the dandyish puff of silk favored by his eldest son.

Unlike other members of the royal family whose tastes run to costly baubles and fine Swiss timepieces, Prince Philip habitually wore “a plain watch with a brown leather strap,” as the Independent once reported, and a copper bracelet intended to ease arthritis. He left his large hands free of jewelry and roughly manicured.

If he looked best in sporting clothes, it was because he was a true sportsman, captain of both the cricket and hockey teams at boarding school in Scotland, a polo player well past his 40s, an active participant in international coaching competitions until late in life.

He was also the only member of the Firm’s inner circle before Meghan Markle to have been foreign-born. This, too, may have given him a style advantage since it is often true that outsiders can bring a fresh eye to staid sartorial conventions, both enlivening and improving them. (It took the Japanese to explain denim to Americans and the Neapolitans to demonstrate for the English how to perfect English style.)

Search online and you will not find an image of Prince Philip committing a style solecism. There is never a novelty tie or a funny hat. For that matter, and except on obligatory state occasions, there is little enough of the comic operetta regalia beloved of Prince Philip’s uncle, Louis Mountbatten, the First Earl Mountbatten of Burma — no braiding, no frogging, no sashes or fringed and gilded epaulets.

The paradox of Prince Philip’s life may have been that, as the husband of a queen and father of a future king, he was essential to power although insignificant to its workings. And he often jokingly disparaged himself as the “world’s most experienced plaque unveiler.” Yet it was probably in that role that he did his best work for the family business, since a glimpse of this elegant and diffident man was the closest most Britons would ever come to royalty’s attenuated realities and burnished grandeur. In that sense, Prince Philip was never “dressed,” in any conventional manner so much as he was outfitted for purpose.

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Kim Kardashian’s Skims Is Now Worth $1.6 Billion

Not long after Kim Kardashian West launched her shapewear brand Skims in 2019, pandemic lockdowns consigned its body-fitting product line to the back of consumers’ closets.

But Skims survived. Moreover, it has become a billion-dollar business.

The company has raised $154 million in new funding, which Ms. Kardashian West said had lifted its valuation to $1.6 billion. It is a heady amount for a not-quite two-year-old clothing brand, even one led by someone with her star power.

It also cements Ms. Kardashian West’s status as a billionaire in her own right. In announcing her entry into that club this week, Forbes estimated Skims’ value at much less than that. She will remain Skims’ biggest shareholder after the deal, and she and her business partner, Jens Grede, will control a majority stake.

her cosmetics line to the makeup giant Coty, valuing it at $1 billion. Her sister Kylie Jenner sold a majority stake in her own cosmetics line, also to Coty, in a deal that valued it at $1.2 billion.

Skims also isn’t Ms. Kardashian West’s first foray into clothing. She and her sisters Khloé and Kourtney had a line with Sears that essentially served as a licensing deal over which she had little control.

now-estranged husband, was “super involved” in the beginning, giving frank criticism of early designs for Skims packaging, she said.)

the shapewear business, which has for decades been dominated primarily by one company, Spanx. Before 2020, when sales of shapewear dropped 30 percent, the category consistently generated just over $500 million in sales a year, or 3 percent of total apparel sales, according to NPD. Like other shapewear start-ups, Skims was aiming for the younger end of the market.

Skims defined itself with an emphasis on inclusivity, offering nine sizes, up to 5X, in as many skin-tone shades. Within its first nine weeks, it had racked up two million names on its wait lists, Mr. Grede said. To date, Skims has sold more than four million units, with a customer retention rate of over 30 percent. Skims products are also sold at the high-end department stores Nordstrom and Britain’s Selfridges and several online retailers.

Skims faced challenges even before the pandemic. One was of Ms. Kardashian West’s own making: The company was initially called Kimono, until accusations of cultural appropriation prompted her to change the moniker. (“Even when it seemed innocent to me,” she said, “people didn’t see it that way.”)

Then, in addition to declining shapewear sales during the pandemic, the company suffered delays in sourcing raw material for its fabrics, which hampered its ability to develop, produce and ultimately sell new products.

“We had to figure out different factories and had to get creative,” Ms. Kardashian West said. Even so, Skims reported $145 million in sales last year, and expects to roughly double sales to $300 million this year.

Joshua Kushner, and his wife, the model Karlie Kloss.)

The round also includes funding from two existing investors, Imaginary Ventures and Alliance Consumer Growth.

“We have been continuously impressed by Skims’ ability to connect with consumers on a personal level and keep them coming back for more,” Nabil Mallick, a partner at Thrive, said in a statement.

were dresses, suggest that shoppers may be planning to resume dressing more formally.

Kristen Classi-Zummo, an analyst at NPD, offered a more cautious take, reckoning that the category would rebound, though customers who have grown used to comfort will insist on easy-fitting apparel even as they re-embrace some aspects of shapewear.

“I do think we’ll get dressed up again,” Ms. Classi-Zummo said, “but I do think it will look and feel different.”

Ms. Kardashian West said she hoped to build Skims into a “multigenerational brand that will be around for a very long time.”

But she did not rule out eventually selling the business — so long as she retained a role in its operations. “I think I’m open to the conversation, for sure,” she said. But “I would never want to give up my process. I would hope that whoever we partner with in a sale one day would believe in that, too.”

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China’s Forced-Labor Backlash Threatens to Put N.B.A. in Unwanted Spotlight

U.S.-China tensions, human rights and business are once again meeting uncomfortably on the basketball court.

In China, local brands are prospering from a consumer backlash against Nike, H&M and other foreign brands over their refusal to use Chinese cotton made by forced labor. Chinese brands have publicly embraced the cotton from the Xinjiang region, leading to big sales to patriotic shoppers and praise from the Beijing-controlled media.

In the United States, two of those same Chinese brands, Li-Ning and Anta, adorn the feet of N.B.A. players — and those players are being rewarded handsomely for it. Two players reached endorsement deals with Anta in February. Another signed on this week. Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors already had a shoe deal with Anta that has been widely reported to be valued at up to $80 million.

Dwyane Wade, the three-time N.B.A. champion and retired Miami Heat player, has a clothing line with Li-Ning that is so successful he has recruited young players for the brand.

online, however.) Still, their full-throated support of Xinjiang could have reputational consequences for the American athletes.

once said he wanted to be the Michael Jordan of Anta. His teammate James Wiseman, as well as Alex Caruso of the Los Angeles Lakers, signed with Anta earlier this year, according to the sportswear brand’s social media account. Precious Achiuwa of the Heat announced this week that he was joining Anta.

Requests for comment from Mr. Thompson and other N.B.A. players also went unanswered.

Outside China, Xinjiang has become synonymous with repression. Reports suggest as many as one million Uyghurs and other largely Muslim ethnic minorities have been held in detention camps. In March, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken accused China of continuing to “commit genocide and crimes against humanity” in the far northwestern region.

voiced his support for the Hong Kong protests on Twitter in 2019, Li-Ning and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Credit Card Center paused their partnerships with the team. The Chinese Basketball Association, whose president is the former Rockets player Yao Ming, also suspended its cooperation with the Rockets.

quickly denied. But the incident left a scar on the N.B.A.’s reputation for supporting free speech and severely limited its access to the Chinese market.

China Central Television, the state-run television network, stopped broadcasting N.B.A. games after Mr. Morey’s message on Twitter. Late last year, it briefly resumed coverage for Games 5 and 6 of the N.B.A. finals. A week later, Mr. Morey stepped down as general manager.

In a radio interview this week, Mr. Silver said that CCTV had stopped airing N.B.A. games again, but that fans could stream them through Tencent, the Chinese internet conglomerate. He said that the N.B.A.’s partnership with China was “complicated,” but that “doesn’t mean we don’t speak up about what we see are, you know, things in China that are inconsistent with our values.”

A spokesman for the league declined to comment for this article.

Money and a large China fan base are at stake for players like Mr. Thompson and the dozens of other American athletes who have been heavily promoted by Anta and Li-Ning. Mr. Thompson has had a partnership with Anta since 2014 that has given him a popular shoe line and sponsored tours in China.

More recent deals between the companies and N.B.A. players could face questions in coming weeks as tensions between the United States and China escalate. Jimmy Butler, a five-time all-star who plays for the Heat, and the Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet signed on with Li-Ning in November. Mr. Wade, the retired Heat player, helped CJ McCollum and D’Angelo Russell, two star guards, secure deals with Li-Ning through his sportswear line.

“My decision 7 years ago to sign with Li-Ning was to show the next generation that it’s not just one way of doing things,” Mr. Wade wrote on Twitter when he announced Mr. Russell’s contract in November 2019. “I had a chance to build a Global platform that gives future athletes a canvas to create and be expressive.”

Sopan Deb contributed reporting from New York, and Cao Li from Hong Kong.

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China’s Anger at Foreign Brands Helps Local Rivals

Tim Min once drove BMWs. He considered buying a Tesla.

Instead Mr. Min, the 33-year-old owner of a Beijing cosmetics start-up, bought an electric car made by a Chinese Tesla rival, Nio. He likes Nio’s interiors and voice control features better.

He also considers himself a patriot. “I have a very strong inclination toward Chinese brands and very strong patriotic emotions,” he said. “I used to love Nike, too. Now I don’t see any reason for that. If there’s a good Chinese brand to replace Nike, I’ll be very happy to.”

Western brands like H&M, Nike and Adidas have come under pressure in China for refusing to use cotton produced in the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has waged a broad campaign of repression against ethnic minorities. Shoppers vowed to boycott the brands. Celebrities dropped their endorsement deals.

But foreign brands also face increasing pressure from a new breed of Chinese competitors making high-quality products and selling them through savvy marketing to an increasingly patriotic group of young people. There’s a term for it: “guochao,” or Chinese fad.

HeyTea, a $2 billion milk tea start-up with 700 stores, wants to replace Starbucks. Yuanqisenlin, a four-year-old low-sugar drink company valued at $6 billion, wants to become China’s Coca-Cola. Ubras, a five-year-old company, wants to supplant Victoria’s Secret with the most non-Victoria’s Secret of products: unwired, sporty bras that emphasize comfort.

The anger over Xinjiang cotton has given these Chinese brands another chance to win over consumers. As celebrities cut their ties to foreign brands, Li-Ning, a Chinese sportswear giant, announced that Xiao Zhan, a boy band member, would become its new global ambassador. Within 20 minutes, almost everything that Mr. Xiao wore on a Li-Ning advertisement had sold out online. A hashtag about the campaign was viewed more than one billion times.

China is undergoing a consumer brand revolution. Its young generation is more nationalistic and actively looking for brands that can align with that confidently Chinese identity. Entrepreneurs are rushing to build up names and products that resonate. Investors are turning their attention to these start-ups amid dropping returns from technology and media ventures.

When patriotism becomes a selling point, Western brands are put at a competitive disadvantage, especially in a country that increasingly requires global companies to toe the same political lines that Chinese firms must.

a jump in Tesla deliveries. IPhones remain immensely popular. Campaigns against foreign names have come and gone, and local brands that emphasize politics too much risk unwanted attention if the political winds shift quickly.

Still, interest in local brands marks a significant shift. Post-Mao, the country made few consumer products. The first televisions that most families owned in the 1980s were from Japan. Pierre Cardin, the French designer, reintroduced fashion with his first show in Beijing in 1979, bringing color and flair to a nation that during the Cultural Revolution wore blue and gray.

Chinese people born in the 1970s or earlier remember their first sip of Coco-Cola and their first bite of a Big Mac. We watched films from Hollywood, Japan and Hong Kong as much for the wardrobes and makeup as the plot. We rushed to buy Head & Shoulders shampoo because its Chinese name, Haifeisi, means “sea flying hair.”

“We’ve gone through the European and American fad, the Japanese and Korean fad, the American streetwear fad, even the Hong Kong and Taiwan fad,” said Xun Shaohua, who founded a Shanghai sportswear company that competes with Vans and Converse.

Now could be the time for the China fad. Chinese companies are making better products. China’s Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2009, doesn’t have the same attachment to foreign names.

Even People’s Daily, the traditionally staid Communist Party official newspaper, is getting into branding. It started a streetwear collection with Li-Ning in 2019. That same year, it issued a report with Baidu, the Chinese search company, called “Guochao Pride Big Data.” They found that when people in China searched for brands, more than two-thirds were looking for domestic names, up from only about one-third 10 years earlier.

makes up only about 40 percent of China’s economic output, much less than it does in the United States and Europe.

Patriotism aside, entrepreneurs argue that their ventures rest on a solid business foundation. Similar trends happened in Japan and South Korea, both now home to strong brands. Local players better know the abilities of the country’s supply chains and how to use social media.

Mr. Xun’s sports brand has half a million followers on Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace and sells at the same prices as Vans and Converse, or even slightly higher. He said his brand competed by making shoes that fit Chinese feet better and offering colors favored locally, such as mint green and fuchsia. He sells exclusively online and teams up with Chinese and foreign brands and personalities, including Pokemon and Hello Kitty. At 37, he’s the only person in his company who was born before 1990.

The guochao fad has also reinvigorated older Chinese brands, like Li-Ning. For many years, sophisticated urbanites considered the brand, created by a former world champion gymnast of the same name, ugly and cheap. Its signature red-and-yellow color combination, after the Chinese flag, was mockingly called “eggs fried with tomato,” an everyday Chinese dish. Li-Ning was losing money. Its shares were on a losing streak.

Then the company introduced a collection at New York Fashion Week in early 2018. Its edgy look, combined with bold Chinese characters and embroidery, created buzz back home. Its shares have risen nearly ninefold since then. Now Li-Ning’s high-end collections sell at $100 to $150 on average, on a par with those of Adidas.

National Basketball Association and Dolce & Gabbana passed pretty quickly, this bout could linger, many people said.

“In the past, some Western brands didn’t understand or failed to respect the Chinese culture mostly because of lack of understanding,” Mr. Xun said. “This time it’s a political issue. They have violated our political sensitivities.”

Then, like any savvy Chinese entrepreneur who knows which topics are sensitive, he asked, “Could we not talk about politics?”

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Garment Workers Who Lost Jobs in Pandemic Still Wait for Severance Pay

Over a crackling phone line, Ashraf Ali, a 35-year-old father in Bangladesh, described feeling suicidal and desperate to feed his family. Sokunthea Yi, in Cambodia, said she spends sleepless nights worrying about how she will pay off loans she took out to build her house. And at only 23, Dina Arviah in Indonesia said she was hopeless about her future as there were no longer any jobs in her district.

All once held jobs as garment workers in factories producing clothes and shoes for companies like Nike, Walmart and Benetton. But in the last 12 months those jobs have disappeared, as major brands in the United States and Europe canceled or refused to pay for orders in the wake of the pandemic and suppliers resorted to mass layoffs or closures.

Most garment workers earn chronically low wages, and few have any savings. Which means the only thing standing between them and dire poverty are legally mandated severance benefits that most garment workers are owed upon termination, wherever they are in the world.

According to a new report from the Worker Rights Consortium, however, garment workers like Mr. Ali, Ms. Yi and Ms. Dina Arviah are being denied some or all of these wages.

The study identified 31 export garment factories in nine countries where, the authors concluded, a total of 37,637 fired workers were not paid the full severance pay they legally earned, a collective $39.8 million.

According to Scott Nova, the group’s executive director, the report covers only about 10 percent of global garment factory closures with mass layoffs in the last year. The group is investigating another 210 factories in 18 countries, leading the authors to estimate that the final data set will detail 213 factories with severance pay violations affecting more than 160,000 workers owed $171.5 million.

severance guarantee fund. The initiative, devised in conjunction with 220 unions and other labor rights organizations, would be financed by mandatory payments from signatory brands that could then be leveraged in cases of large-scale nonpayment of severance by a factory or supplier.

Amazon, for example, reported an increase in net profit of 84 percent in 2020, while Inditex made 11.4 billion euros, about $13.4 billion, in gross profit. Nike, Next and Walmart all also had healthy earnings.

Some industry experts believe the purchasing practices of the industry’s power players are a major contributor to the severance pay crisis. The overwhelming majority of fashion retailers do not own their own production facilities, instead contracting with factories in countries where labor is cheap. The brands dictate prices, often squeezing suppliers to offer more for less, and can shift sourcing locations at will. Factory owners in developing countries say they are forced to operate on minimal margins, with few able to afford better worker wages or investments in safety and severance.

“The onus falls on the supplier,” said Genevieve LeBaron, a professor at the University of Sheffield in England who focuses on international labor standards. “But there is a reason the spotlight keeps falling on larger actors further up the supply chain. Their behavior can impact the ability of factories to deliver on their responsibilities.”

“Historically, severance hasn’t received the same amount of attention as other types of compensation,” Ms. LeBaron added. “But it should. Often workers who lose their jobs are at their most vulnerable. When they aren’t paid what they are owed, many are forced into taking desperate or dangerous measures to survive.”

labor rights code of conduct. Most say they guarantee that suppliers will pay workers their legally mandated benefits. But in some cases, factory owners can go into hiding or refuse to pay fired employees. In others, owners claim that exploitative contracts brought them to bankruptcy or made it impossible for them to reserve funds for severance.

code of conduct included checks to ensure workers received what was owed to them after factory closures or layoffs. The company did not respond to any questions about missing severance payments by A-One.

When contacted by The New York Times about wage theft at factories, most brands downplayed their relationships, even though corporate codes of conduct do not specify that responsibilities to workers are proportionate to their order size.

Ms. Yi was one of 774 workers who were laid off in June from Hana I, a factory in Cambodia that supplied Walmart and Zara. The workers are owed more than $1 million in severance, the report estimates. Although she received an initial $500, Ms. Yi, 33, was still owed $1,290 in severance and was still unemployed as of this month.

Inditex, the parent company of Zara, said it had not worked with the factory for five years. Walmart said it believed the factory had paid all the severance it legally owed to workers in June. The factory owners did not respond to requests for comment via email.

“We are saddened by the unfortunate financial hardship that has occurred for many businesses due to the pandemic and are particularly concerned about the impact it has on their employees,” a Walmart spokeswoman said. She noted that the company made efforts to “review and hold suppliers accountable for compliance” with its standards and local laws.

Hulu Garment factory in Phnom Penh, a former supplier for Walmart, Amazon, Macy’s and Adidas, owes 1,000 former workers $3.63 million, according to the report.

Adidas said it had used the company only for small orders. The owners of Hulu did not respond to a request for comment.

Of all the companies approached by The Times, only Gap, which placed orders with factories cited in the report in Indonesia, Cambodia, India and Jordan, specifically said it had investigated allegations made in the report.

“In all cases we either confirmed that severance had been provided or remediated any that were outstanding,” a Gap spokeswoman said, adding that the company would investigate any further evidence of severance not being paid out.

As consumers put pressure on companies to make amends and clean up their supply chains, brands “are shrinking their supplier bases,” Ms. LeBaron said.

“That could well produce long-term benefits, but it will mean further disruption, closures and layoffs,” she said. “And that means the severance dilemma is going to become even more common.”

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Global Brands Find It Hard to Untangle Themselves From Xinjiang Cotton

Faced with accusations that it was profiting from the forced labor of Uyghur people in the Chinese territory of Xinjiang, the H&M Group — the world’s second-largest clothing retailer — promised last year to stop buying cotton from the region.

But last month, H&M confronted a new outcry, this time from Chinese consumers who seized on the company’s renouncement of the cotton as an attack on China. Social media filled with angry demands for a boycott, urged on by the government. Global brands like H&M risked alienating a country of 1.4 billion people.

The furor underscored how international clothing brands relying on Chinese materials and factories now face the mother of all conundrums — a conflict vastly more complex than their now-familiar reputational crises over exploitative working conditions in poor countries.

ban on imports. Labor activists will charge them with complicity in the grotesque repression of the Uyghurs.

Myanmar and Bangladesh, where cheap costs of production reflect alarming safety conditions.

genocide. As many as a million Uyghurs have been herded into detention camps, and deployed as forced labor.

Uzbekistan.

As China has transformed itself from an impoverished country into the world’s second-largest economy, it has leaned on the textile and apparel industries. China has courted foreign companies with the promise of low-wage workers operating free from the intrusions of unions.

regional government said last year.

statement reported by Reuters.

That assertion flew in the face of a growing body of literature, including a recent statement from the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing “serious concerns” about reports of forced labor.

The Better Cotton Initiative declined a request for an interview to discuss how it had come to its conclusion.

“We are a not-for-profit organization with a small team,” the initiative’s communications manager, Joe Woodruff, said in an email.

The body’s membership includes some of the world’s largest, most profitable clothing manufacturers and retailers — among them Inditex, the Spanish conglomerate that owns Zara, and Nike, whose sales last year exceeded $37 billion.

Trump administration furthered the trend by pressuring American multinational companies to abandon China.

“All of the economic forces that pushed this production to China are really no longer at work,” said Pietra Rivoli, a trade expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

Still, China retains attributes not easily replicated — the world’s largest ports, plus a cluster of related industries, from chemicals to plastics.

Cambodia in response to its government’s harsh crackdown on dissent.

Some global brands are seeking Beijing’s permission to import more cotton into China from the United States and Australia. They could employ that cotton to make products destined for Europe and North America, while using the Xinjiang crop for the Chinese market.

Yet that approach may leave the apparel companies exposed to the same risks they face now.

“If the brand is labeled as ‘They are still using forced labor, but they are just using it for the Chinese market,’ is this going to suffice?” said Ms. Collinson, the industry lobbyist.

Last week, H&M issued a new communication, beseeching Chinese consumers to return. “We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges,” said the statement, which did not mention Xinjiang. “China is a very important market to us.”

Those words appear to have satisfied no one — not the human rights organizations skeptical of claims that apparel companies have severed links to Xinjiang; not Chinese consumers angry over a perceived national indignity.

On Chinese social media, criticism of H&M remained fierce.

“For you, China is still an important market,” one post declared. “But for China, you are just an unnecessary brand.”

Joy Dong, Liu Yi and Chris Buckley contributed.

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The Ghosts of Brooks Brothers

ENFIELD, Conn. — The bones of Brooks Brothers stores are scattered across 100,000 square feet here in a warehouse near the Massachusetts border, mixed in with a sea of cardboard boxes and junk.

There are legions of mannequins, empty circular tables that once displayed neckties, posters of horseback-riding gentlemen from a bygone era. There is a whole section of Christmas trees and countless gold-painted ornaments of sheep suspended by ribbon — a Brooks Brothers symbol since 1850 known as the Golden Fleece. Blank order forms for tailors are strewn about. A neon sign that apparently still works. There is no apparel, but there are rows of heavy sewing machines that most likely came from one of the brand’s recently shuttered factories. And in the bathroom, a welcome carpet with Brooks Brothers written in cursive sits next to a toilet.

The whole mass was abandoned here in the fallout of Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy filing and sale last year, the scraps of a retailer that made nearly $1 billion in sales in 2019. Ever since, the couple that owns the warehouse, Chip and Rosanna LaBonte, has been scrambling to figure out how to get rid of it all. Junk removal companies have told them it will cost at least $240,000 to clear the space, which Brooks Brothers had rented through November. In order to pay the bill, the LaBontes are going to have to sell their home.

retail bankruptcies, which cascaded during the pandemic and affected everyone from factory workers to executives. Smaller vendors and landlords have often been left holding the short end of the stick during lengthy byzantine bankruptcy proceedings, particularly with limits on what they can spend on legal bills compared with larger corporations. And once bankrupt brands are sold, people like the LaBontes are typically left in the dust.

corporate bankruptcies in the United States last year, which had the highest number of filings in a decade, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The LaBontes, who are in their 60s, have been working with a liquidator to sell what they can of the Brooks Brothers detritus, and are about to list their home in Sherborn, Mass. While they have filed a claim in bankruptcy court, they are anticipating receiving less than 5 percent of what they are owed, if that — and confessed that the proceedings are hopelessly confusing. Most of all, they are angry and incredulous about the situation, especially as Brooks Brothers continues to operate under wealthy new owners.

entire portions of their closets. J. Crew and the owners of Ann Taylor and Men’s Wearhouse also filed for bankruptcy, while sales nose-dived at chains like Banana Republic. Temporary store closures added to the distress, along with the cancellations of special occasions like proms, graduations, weddings and other events.

All that led up to Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy filing in July, one of the most significant retail collapses of 2020. Brooks Brothers had dressed all but four U.S. presidents at the time of its filing, and prided itself on its American factories, which were also forced to close.

the SPARC Group, including Lucky Brand denim and Forever 21, leveraging the combination of Authentic Brands’ expertise in licensing famous brand names in various lucrative and creative (and some say equity-destructive) ways and Simon’s real estate portfolio.

At the time of the Brooks Brothers purchase, SPARC committed to keep operating at least 125 Brooks Brothers retail locations, compared with 424 retail and outlet stores globally before the pandemic.

Under the new owners, Brooks Brothers switched to wire transfers instead of checks, but kept paying rent on the warehouse through November, sending even more goods there as it closed dozens of stores and shuttered its three American factories, Mr. and Ms. LaBonte said. But after Thanksgiving, it sent a letter to the couple rejecting the lease as well as the contents of the warehouse. According to a person with knowledge of the deal, the warehouse and its contents had not been part of SPARC’s purchase of Brooks Brothers. As a result, said Mr. Van Horn said, the new owner most likely has no legal responsibility to the LaBontes.

A representative for SPARC stopped returning requests for comment.

“They used it for all of their store fixtures, so tables, props, fishing poles, canoes, everything you would see that would go in and out of a store to decorate it,” Mr. LaBonte said. “There’s probably 20,000 square feet of Christmas trees — everything except the actual merchandise.”

As to who would want it now: Customers have included local clothing makers looking for mannequins and a set designer from an upcoming HBO series called “The Gilded Age.” Last Monday, an older couple wandered through the space, looking at the Christmas decorations and empty gift boxes. Habitat for Humanity has been looking at the haul for several days and is taking some of the goods. Still, Mr. LaBonte estimated that somewhere around 30 percent of the leftovers have been sold.

The liquidator paid the LaBontes approximately $20,000 to sell what they can through mid-April or so. The couple will not receive a cut, and will deal with what’s left. When junk removal specialists assessed the cost of clearing the space in December, one quote was around $243,000 while the other was closer to $290,000.

“We’re just another Covid casualty to them, we get that,” Ms. LaBonte said of Brooks Brothers. “But I also don’t think they realized how much stuff was there.”

The junk removal firms, which confirmed the prices with The New York Times, said that it was expensive to remove the volume of goods. The costs included labor, multiple trips to dumps, donation and recycling centers, and the use of specialized equipment such as a forklift, large dumpsters and an 18-foot box truck.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Rick McDonald Jr., the owner of EastSide Junk, which provided the $243,000 quote to the couple. “They left an astronomical amount of stuff.”

When Authentic Brands, the licensing firm, announced the purchase of Brooks Brothers out of bankruptcy last year, Jamie Salter, the company’s chief executive, spoke about the retailer’s legacy and its “incredible history.”

The LaBontes, confronting a warehouse full of some of that history, were unhappy to see those comments.

They put out a statement recently asking: “What kind of heritage can they claim when they operate like low-rent, fly-by-night bullies?”

Contact Sapna Maheshwari at sapna@nytimes.com or Vanessa Friedman at vanessa.friedman@nytimes.com.

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Prabal Gurung on Anti-Asian Violence, Discrimination and the Duties of Success

Prabal Gurung, the Nepalese-American designer, has been a vocal proponent of inclusion and diversity since his first show in 2009. In the wake of the Atlanta shootings and an upswing in anti-Asian violence, he talked to The New York Times about his own experiences and what his work has to do with it.

How do you grapple with what’s going on?

To watch a video of a 65-year-old woman being brutally attacked is triggering and heart-wrenching, not just for me but for my friends and people from my community. We all are so worried for our loved ones. My mother goes on walks every morning and evening. She’s 75-years-old. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a blond wig for her, and I said, “You know, just wear it when you go outside, wear a hat, wear glasses.” She tried it on. But the next day she came over to my place, and she was like: “I’m not going to wear it. Just buy me a big, strong cane.” That is the reality of this.

Is that why you were an organizer of a Black and Asian solidarity march with other designers and activists in March?

We didn’t know how many people were going to show up, but thousands and thousands of people showed up across races and gender: L.G.B.T.Q. friends, Latin friends, Black friends, Asian friends, white friends. What we recognize is that for this particular moment to turn into a movement, we have to have all the marginalized groups and our white counterparts coming together.

Oh, a wave of Asian designers.” Then there’s a wave of Black designers, a wave of women designers. We never say a wave of white designers. We are never considered designers on our own. So that kind of implicit bias, that kind of microaggression, we face it all the time.

Did you experience it when you were trying to get financial backing for your business?

For my 10-year anniversary I was at a potential investors meeting, and one asked, “What does the brand stand for?” I said: “The America that I see is very colorful. The dinner table that I see is very colorful. It’s diverse. That’s the America that was promised to me. That’s why I came here, because I was a misfit back home.” And he says to me, “Well, you don’t look American.” I looked at him, and I was like, “You mean to say I don’t look white?”

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’ve been in business in America for 20 years. I’m a citizen. I make more than 90 percent of my clothes in New York City. I am actively involved in social causes. I’ve contributed to my taxes.”

torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the U.S. began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Community leaders say the bigotry was spurred by the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus.”

  • In New York, a wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
  • In January, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground in San Francisco, resulting in his death at a hospital two days later. The attack, captured on video, has become a rallying cry.
  • Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the Atlanta massage parlor shootings on March 16. The suspect’s motives are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.
  • A man has been arrested and charged with a hate crime in connection with a violent attack on a Filipino woman near Times Square on March 30. The attack sparked further outrage after security footage appeared to show bystanders failing to immediately come to the woman’s aid.
  • Part of what you are trying to do with your work is educate people about the nuances of different Asian cultures, right?

    Asian-Americans are the fastest growing immigrant group in the U.S. electorate, with roots all over the world. We are diverse. I look East Asian, right? But I’m from Southeast Asia. I sit in the center of the brown Asians and the other Asians. The wealth disparity between the richest Asian-Americans and the poorest is insanely high. I think maybe the largest of any ethnic group in this country. In spite of that, there is a myth of the model minority, of crazy rich Asians. That’s why “Parasite” is important, why “Minari” is important. Give us the platform so we can tell our stories.

    This stereotyping doesn’t make you angry?

    I’m OK with people making mistakes because it can start a dialogue that leads to a solution. I refuse to cancel people unless there’s something really harmful.

    Fashion is one of the hardest and most arduous industries, but it’s also an industry that can reward you in the most splendid, incredible way. And it is the only industry where in 10 minutes on a runway we can really change the narrative of what the culture can be. That’s the power of fashion.

    I am a living example of it, coming from a country like Nepal where nobody believed I could be a designer. To be able to live that dream and to have this platform. It’s been really incredible.


    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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