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.
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.”
Life can change in an instant, as I experienced when I first laid my eyes on a tall and bizarrely striking bird known as the greater adjutant.
It was India in 2018, in the northeastern state of Assam. I’d ended up there partly because of absurd circumstances, which involved being filmed for a reality television pilot while navigating a motorized rickshaw through the Himalayas. After traversing some of the highest and most dangerous roads in the world, including the Tanglang La mountain pass, I ventured off to see a traditional selection of endangered animals: Asian elephants, greater one-horned rhinos, western hoolock gibbons.
While en route to Guwahati, Assam’s capital, I saw a 5-foot-tall bird towering near the roadside. I was so taken by its appearance that I asked the driver to pull over so I could have a better look. It had piercing blue eyes, an elongated electric-yellow neck, a wobbly, inflatable neck pouch, long legs that moved with a stiff military gait, and spindly black hairs atop its (mostly bald) prehistoric-looking head. Little did I know that this outlandish animal — also endangered, though not famously so — would change the course of my professional life.
ecologically important water storage basin threatened by pollution and encroachment.
cattle egrets, were the spectacular greater adjutants, who were circling and stiffly marching alongside the other foragers.
rare and endangered scavengers.
taxonomic bias, since humans generally favor attractive mammals with forward-facing eyes. “The more people who see hargilas as a bad omen, disease-carrier and pest,” Dr. Barman told me, “the more I am obsessed.”
towel-like textile — with transfixing speed and expertise.
Carla Rhodes is a wildlife conservation photographer who lives in the Catskills. You can follow her work on Instagram.
Last week, calls for the cancellation of H&M and other Western brands went out across Chinese social media as human rights campaigns collided with cotton sourcing and political gamesmanship. Here’s what you need to know about what’s going on and how it may affect everything from your T-shirts to your trench coats.
What’s all this I’m hearing about fashion brands and China? Did someone make another dumb racist ad?
No, it’s much more complicated than an offensive and obvious cultural faux pas. The issue centers on the Xinjiang region of China and allegations of forced labor in the cotton industry — allegations denied by the Chinese government. Last summer, many Western brands issued statements expressing concerns about human rights in their supply chain. Some even cut ties with the region all together.
Now, months later, the chickens are coming home to roost: Chinese netizens are reacting with fury, charging the allegations are an offense to the state. Leading Chinese e-commerce platforms have kicked major international labels off their sites, and a slew of celebrities have denounced their former foreign employers.
growing political and economic implications. On the one hand, as the pandemic continues to roil global retail, consumers have become more attuned to who makes their clothes and how they are treated, putting pressure on brands to put their values where their products are. One the other, China has become an evermore important sales hub to the fashion industry, given its scale and the fact that there is less disruption there than in other key markets, like Europe. Then, too, international politicians are getting in on the act, imposing bans and sanctions. Fashion has become a diplomatic football.
This is a perfect case study of what happens when market imperatives come up against global morality.
Tell me more about Xinjiang and why it is so important.
Xinjiang is a region in northwest China that happens to produce about a fifth of the world’s cotton. It is home to many ethnic groups, especially the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority. Though it is officially the largest of China’s five autonomous regions, which in theory means it has more legislative self-control, the central government has been increasingly involved in the area, saying it must exert its authority because of local conflicts with the Han Chinese (the ethnic majority) who have been moving into the region. This has resulted in draconian restrictions, surveillance, criminal prosecutions and forced-labor camps.
OK, and what about the Uyghurs?
A predominantly Muslim Turkic group, the Uyghur population within Xinjiang numbers just over 12 million, according to official figures released by Chinese authorities. As many as one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been retrained to become model workers, obedient to the Chinese Communist Party via coercive labor programs.
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Axios and others published reports that connected Uyghurs in forced detention to the supply chains of many of the world’s best-known fashion retailers, including Adidas, Lacoste, H&M, Ralph Lauren and the PVH Corporation, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, many of those brands reassessed their relationships with Xinjiang-based cotton suppliers.
banned all imports of cotton from the region, as well as products made from the material and declared what was happening “genocide.” At the time, the Workers Rights Consortium estimated that material from Xinjiang was involved in more than 1.5 billion garments imported annually by American brands and retailers.
That’s a lot! How do I know if I am wearing a garment made from Xinjiang cotton?
You don’t. The supply chain is so convoluted and subcontracting so common that often it’s hard for brands themselves to know exactly where and how every component of their garments is made.
So if this has been an issue for over a year, why is everyone in China freaking out now?
It isn’t immediately clear. One theory is that it is because of the ramp-up in political brinkmanship between China and the West. On March 22, Britain, Canada, the European Union and the United States announced sanctions on Chinese officials in an escalating row over the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Not long after, screenshots from a statement posted in September 2020 by H&M citing “deep concerns” about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang, and confirming that the retailer had stopped buying cotton from growers in the region, began circulating on Chinese social media. The fallout was fast and furious. There were calls for a boycott, and H&M products were soon missing from China’s most popular e-commerce platforms, Alibaba Group’s Tmall and JD.com. The furor was stoked by comments on the microblogging site Sina Weibo from groups like the Communist Youth League, an influential Communist Party organization.
Within hours, other big Western brands like Nike and Burberry began trending for the same reason.
And it’s not just consumers who are up in arms: Influencers and celebrities have also been severing ties with the brands. Even video games are bouncing virtual “looks” created by Burberry from their platforms.
one second (there were 100 made). That’s why H&M worked with Victoria Song, Nike with Wang Yibo and Burberry with Zhou Dongyu.
But Chinese influencers and celebrities are also sensitive to pleasing the central government and publicly affirming their national values, often performatively choosing their country over contracts.
In 2019, for example, Yang Mi, the Chinese actress and a Versace ambassador, publicly repudiated the brand when it made the mistake of creating a T-shirt that listed Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries, seeming to dismiss the “One China” policy and the central government’s sovereignty. Not long afterward, Coach was targeted after making a similar mistake, creating a tee that named Hong Kong and Taiwan separately; Liu Wen, the Chinese supermodel, immediately distanced herself from the brand.
Tencent removed two Burberry-designed “skins” — outfits worn by video game characters that the brand had introduced with great fanfare — from its popular title Honor of Kings as a response to news that the brand had stopped buying cotton produced in the Xinjiang region. The looks had been available for less than a week.
So this is hitting both fast fashion and the high end. How much of the fashion world is involved?
Potentially, most of it. So far Adidas, Nike, Converse and Burberry have all been swept up in the crisis. Even before the ban, additional companies like Patagonia, PVH, Marks & Spencer and the Gap had announced that they did not source material from Xinjiang and had officially taken a stance against human rights abuses.
removed their policies against forced labor from their websites.
That seems squirrelly. Is this likely to escalate?
Brands seem to be concerned that the answer is yes, since, apparently fearful of offending the Chinese government, some companies have proactively announced that they will continue buying cotton from Xinjiang. Hugo Boss, the German company whose suiting is a de facto uniform for the financial world, posted a statement on Weibo saying, “We will continue to purchase and support Xinjiang cotton” (even though last fall the company had announced it was no longer sourcing from the region). Muji, the Japanese brand, is also proudly touting its use of Xinjiang cotton on its Chinese websites, as is Uniqlo.
Wait … I get playing possum, but why would a company publicly pledge its allegiance to Xinjiang cotton?
It’s about the Benjamins, buddy. According to a report from Bain & Company released last December, China is expected to be the world’s largest luxury market by 2025. Last year it was the only part of the world to report year on year growth, with the luxury market reaching 44 billion euros ($52.2 billion).
Is anyone going to come out of this well?
One set of winners could be the Chinese fashion industry, which has long played second fiddle to Western brands, to the frustration of many businesses there. Shares in Chinese apparel groups and textile companies with ties to Xinjiang rallied this week as the backlash gained pace. And more than 20 Chinese brands publicly made statements touting their support for Chinese cotton.
The challenges of the past year gave designers every reason to recede into the shadows, but creativity won’t be denied.
If anything, they are finding inspiration in global upheaval. From hundreds of possibilities, here are just a few examples we selected of projects begun or realized despite closed borders, disrupted supply chains and economic collapse.
Designers are recycling the rubble from Mexico City’s streets, for example, creating play spaces so Beirut’s children can find comfort in a city ripped apart by an explosion and proposing textiles as a building material to replace environmentally cruel concrete. More than just surmounting challenges, many are looking ahead to a greener, healthier and more equitable world.
Dadaï, a Thai, Vietnamese and dim sum restaurant that opened in August in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, takes its inspiration from the avant-garde Dada art movement — or at least a 21st-century Japanese interpretation of it.
A chevron, or zigzag, pattern covers the walls, floor and ceiling. Arched bays are filled with classical-style nude statues that look as if they’ve been ensnared in webs of washi tape. And at the center of the dining room, angled vertiginously over the bar, is a giant photographic portrait of a woman interrupted by collaged smears of color.
Located in the new, fashion-centric Miyashita Park retail development, the restaurant’s design, by Yasumichi Morita of the aptly named Tokyo studio Glamorous, makes no obvious concessions to a post-pandemic world. (Japan’s self-described “state of emergency” ended on March 21.)
Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona designs a self-sufficient structure aimed at reducing the effects of climate change. But the class of 2019-2020 chose to take on another global crisis by imagining an architectural response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had two crises at the same time,” said Vicente Guallart, a director of the master’s program in advanced ecological buildings and biocities. “And the question was what we can learn about that.”
Over five months and under strict quarantine conditions, Mr. Guallart and his co-director Daniel Ibáñez led the group of 17 students in constructing an ecological wood cabin, known as the Voxel, a structure designed with everything one might need to quarantine for 14 days. The design was executed with just 40 pine trees, all harvested less than a mile from the construction site in Barcelona’s Collserola Natural Park. It also includes solar panels, independent battery storage and a rainwater collection and gray-water recycling system.
The roughly 130-square-foot cabin, which rises almost 14 feet, now stands nearly camouflaged among the same pines used to construct it. valldaura.net
17th-century home near Montpellier in southern France with a newly frescoed ceiling in his 250-square-foot bedroom.
The fresco’s single-named artist, Rochegaussen, had worked with Mr. Yovanovitch previously on a restaurant interior in London (he painted cutlery and cookware on a field of cobalt over the chef’s table). Given carte blanche for the bedroom, Rochegaussen arranged woodland animals in his signature energetic line — a motif Mr. Yovanovitch described as “a joyful Mediterranean dance.” The creatures were inspired by fauna from a Provençal forest and include boar, snakes and owls. The designer said that a refreshed environment helped him stay inspired, especially in a period of isolation. And, he added, “there’s something so special about looking up from bed and seeing a painting.” pierreyovanovitch.com, rochegaussen.com
branch institution in Tianjin welcomed its inaugural class of graduate students to a campus designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Located about an hour outside of Beijing, the new 350,000-square-foot complex began construction in 2017 and features performance halls, rehearsal rooms and teaching studios, connected by a ground-level lobby that is open to the public. Expansive windows offer visitors a view into the educational and creative processes.
In China, “there’s still a sense of fascination and curiosity with Western music,” said Charles Renfro, the partner in charge of the project, noting that the building was designed to be a teaching aid for both students and the community.
As the building neared completion in early 2020, Mr. Renfro said he spent many evenings viewing video walk-throughs, trusting that the firm’s partners in China were meeting the precise specifications.
HMC Architects, and his colleagues recently completed a speculative design for a mixed-used project on the Lekki peninsula near Lagos, Nigeria. This relatively sparsely populated area in a region of more than 21 million people is being readied to accommodate millions more in the coming years.
Approached by an environmentally minded local developer who is seeking to acquire 400 acres on the peninsula, the architects envisioned a “forest city” with abundant greenery cleansing the air and a narrow street grid that allows breezes to slip past and passively cool buildings. Rain in the monsoon season would fill basins in parks and gardens. Shaded houses would have communal courtyards and reclaim the climate-responsive earthen materials and decorative patterns of precolonial people like the Yoruba.
an estimated 6,000 buildings, including more than 150 schools. This left Etienne Bastormagi, Sandra Richani and Nada Borgi, local architects and urban planners, wondering how they could help their city as children prepare to return to class.
Their Let’s Play initiative, will rebuild playgrounds at six schools affected by the explosion, with help from other architects and volunteers. Construction on the first, at École Secondaire des Filles de la Charité school in the Achrafieh district, just began.
The public-private initiative also reconsiders what a playground can be, incorporating materials, large-scale objects and landscapes that can be experienced or manipulated in more than one way. Rather than jungle gyms, swing sets or slides, the spaces will have colorful platforms, canopies and pathways that encourage directionless play. Such ambiguities are meant to promote experimentation and social interaction outside of the classroom.
The team also hopes that these new ways to play will help children confront the traumas of 2020, blast and coronavirus pandemic alike, by allowing them to feel safe again in their city. “The therapy effect is not just for the kids,” Mr. Bastormagi added. “I think it starts with us.” instagram.com/lets_play_initiative
Safdie Architects, the hospital opened in January with its more than half a million square feet (and more to come) oriented toward courtyards, gardens and a bucolic lake.
According to Sean Scensor, the project’s lead architect, greenery even determines how visitors move through the building: The main pedestrian corridor parallels a bamboo garden, and five wings stretch perpendicularly from this spine to carve out lush courtyards that open onto a lake. A “healing garden” accessible from the oncology department offers sanctuary in a grove of Indian lilac, red and white frangipani trees and scarlet-blossomed royal poinciana.
Visitors also can steal away to a glass-walled chapel tucked into a bamboo enclosure. The goal, Mr. Scensor said, was to avoid “institutional anonymity” in favor of a “new kind of hospital: highly efficient but inherently humane.” chsm.com
Yinka Ilori, a British-Nigerian artist, has spent the last year designing and installing affirmation-laced murals throughout the city — like one in which bubblegum-pink letters announce “Love always wins” against a backdrop suggestive of ice cream cones.
Mr. Ilori recently extended this “theme of positivity,” as he has called it, to table linens, pillows, rugs and socks sold through his website and a few retailers. The latest designs include bone china mugs and plates emblazoned with his chirpy slogans. This venture compensates for “a loss of projects during the pandemic,” he said. And then some. The line has proved so successful that he has hired additional staff members to manage it into a post-Covid future. Mug 45 pounds, or about $62; plate £70, or about $97. yinkailori.com
Shark Tank”) with his first commercial product: a lamp called Lumio that opens like a book. In October, Mr. Gunawan introduced on Kickstarter a second object that similarly trades in the thrill of the unexpected. Teno is a bowl-shaped sculpture, five inches in diameter, with a jagged golden scar — a reference to the Japanese art of repair called kintsugi. Crack open the bowl, and light pours out (it can be increased or dimmed with a tap). Open the sculpture fully, and it becomes a portable Bluetooth speaker.
MT Objects is a ceramics studio that turns out singular pieces referencing local craft traditions and the architectural splendor and battered infrastructure of its home base, Mexico City, and beyond. Thanks to a masked and socially distant pair of artisans employed by the studio, operations have continued throughout the pandemic, said Tony Moxham, a co-founder with Mauricio Paniagua.
In one recent series, slip-cast vessels were drizzled with black glaze in imitation of the tar used by the Totonac people who occupied what is now the state of Veracruz to represent “the moisture, fertility and darkness of the underworld,” Mr. Moxham said. Another collection, described as “brutalist,” is cast from sidewalk rubble and streaked with traditional colonial lead-based glazes from the western state of Michoacán.
“We wanted to create something that was very different from what everyone else was doing,” Mr. Moxham said. “And in Mexico City, almost any sidewalk you walk down has bits of broken concrete.” Prices range from $1,000 to $5,000 per piece. ceramicalamejor.mx/mt-objects
Aïssa Dione’s 2020 collection of textiles carries the vibrant colors and traditional designs of Senegalese handweaving, though reimagined in various sizes and with fibers like raffia, cotton and viscose. The fabrics are produced in Ms. Dione’s workshop in Rufisque, a town outside of Dakar, where she employs nearly 100 Senegalese weavers who work on looms. They are then sold to luxury interior design companies to cover sofas, armchairs and windows in homes around the world.
Ms. Dione’s 2020 collection also continues the textile designer’s nearly 30-year commitment to revitalize the craft and her continued focus on cultivating raw materials from Senegal, rather than importing them. Working locally and small helped her during a year when the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the global supply chain.
It also gave Ms. Dione a chance to develop a client database, organize photos of past work and shoot a film that captures her weavers’ process. “We had time to sit down and develop things we had no time to do,” she said. aissadionetissus.com
DeMuro Das, an interior design studio near New Delhi, unusual materials are a calling card. It has topped a coffee table in unakite, a speckled, metamorphic rock, and lined a cabinet in koto, a West African hardwood. More recently, the founders, Brian DeMuro and Puru Das, tried wrapping a low cabinet with the parchmentlike substance Carta, lending the piece a pretty, mottled surface, like asphalt after a rainstorm.
Pirjo Haikola, a designer in Melbourne, has 3-D-printed coral reefs that are on view at the art and design triennial at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Anna Aagaard Jensen, a Danish artist, and a wig-like lamp by Laurids Gallée, an Austrian-born designer. The lamp is part of a lighting collection, curated by the Brussels dealer Victor Hunt, titled, appropriately enough, “The Lights at the End of the Tunnel.” May 28 to 30. collectible.design
Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm and the curator of a show about the banquet that revels in bespoke table settings, secret menus, eye-popping floral arrangements and glossy evening wear. Timed to open with the — ultimately canceled — 2020 event, it is fully installed and ready for visitors whenever entry is deemed safe.
The show reveals the banquet as a stage for perfectionism — a chance to source the ultimate raspberry for a dessert or prepare the most challenging potato dish.
But it also highlights modest gestures, like the time in 2018 when Victoria, the Crown Princess of Sweden, recycled the Nina Ricci gown her mother, Queen Silvia, wore to the event in 1995.
“She looked fantastic in it,” Ms. Ahlvik said, though the princess is taller than her mother. “We were all wondering how she did it.” nobelprize.org