Xinjiang Cotton Continues To Be a Headache For Brands | The Week Ahead, BoF Professional


UNIQLO, LEVI’S AND OTHERS MAY BE PUT TO THE TEST REGARDING XINJIANG BACKLASH

  • Western companies that disavowed the alleged use of forced labour in China’s Xinjiang region in last summer are facing Chinese consumer boycotts

  • H&M was the most-targeted brand, and last week said in a statement: “We are dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of our customers, colleagues and business partners in China”

  • Other embroiled brands include Uniqlo and Levi’s, whose parent companies will report financial results this week and likely face more questions about their response

The fallout generated by Chinese backlash to Western companies that denounced reported forced labour practices in Xinjiang, one of the world’s largest suppliers of cotton, continues. The US, EU, UK and Canada announced new sanctions on China following reports of forced labour on the region’s Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. The Chinese government has flatly denied the allegations and many in the country see the outcry against Xinjiang cotton as anti-Chinese and representative of Western bias, a view stoked by state media.

Foreign brands with significant business in China are in a no-win situation, under pressure from Western shoppers to operate more ethically and risking boycotts from Chinese consumers. H&M has taken most of the heat in recent weeks, but others could be next. Fast Retailing has 800 stores in China and in mid-March, three of Uniqlo’s Chinese ambassadors Ni Ni, Jing Boran and Wang Yuan said they would cut ties with the brand.

Meanwhile, Levi Strauss & Co., which has made expanding its audience in China a key priority in recent years and opened 30 stores there last year, will also face questions from analysts this week. Levi’s and Uniqlo are among the many member brands of the Better Cotton Initiative, which said last week it will suspend operations in Xinjiang but continue to engage with farmers and local parties.

The Bottom Line: The Chinese market is a key driver of growth in the fashion business, especially coming out of the pandemic, and brands must learn how to navigate these conflicts without losing the confidence of consumers.

SHANGHAI FASHION WEEK GOES CONSUMER

  • Shanghai Fashion Week, China’s most high-profile industry event, begins Apr. 6 and is set to be star-studded and well-attended

  • It’s happening slightly later than originally planned, postponed after a small Covid-19 outbreak in the city

  • There will be over 100 runway shows, plus trade shows and even a consumer festival, taking place over the course of seven days

The most recent Western fashion month season was subdued to say the least, with the vast majority of designers staging digital shows rather than digital ones. The upcoming Shanghai Fashion Week, on the other hand, is set to be a more lively affair. The schedule of over 100 runway shows features several foreign brands, including Ermanno Scervino, Jason Wu, Pronovias and Dior. Emerging designer platform Labelhood will stage 30 runway shows. Along with fairly well-known roster of Chinese labels, including Yirantian, Yuhan Wang and Private Policy, Labelhood will also spotlight five-student led projects.

In addition to the runway schedule, there will be 10 different trade shows, with over 1,000 brands participating. In an effort to draw in a bigger crowd — and more revenue — organisers have also put together a consumer-facing event, the Shanghai Fashion and Lifestyle Carnival. The online event will serve as a shopping destination, and will spotlight several local influencers, such as livestream powerhouse Li Jiaqi (aka Austin Li).

The Bottom Line: With Shanghai long past the worst of the pandemic, it’s expected to be business as usual this season — with a record-breaking sales season predicted to follow.

WEDDINGS ARE … BACK?

  • New York’s bridal fashion week, which kicks off Tuesday, will indicate how many bridal designers are preparing for another season of subdued gatherings.

  • Many couples downsized or postponed 2020 weddings due to the pandemic, with plans to host larger shindigs again starting in the second half of 2021. But it’s still unclear when large indoor gatherings will be safe to host — and what local regulators will permit.

  • In recent seasons, bridal designers offered more ready-to-wear pieces and micro-wedding-appropriate looks — think skirt suits, versus ball gowns — in order to cater to changed plans.

Ines de Santo, Mira Zwillinger and Amsale are among the bridal designers presenting collections online this week. Last year, many bridal designers downsized collections or skipped seasons entirely as brides postponed or scaled back their weddings and rethought their attire, upending the events-driven, made-to-order business. But wedding planners expect 2021 and 2022 to be unusually busy, even as they grapple with continued uncertainly around variants and legal guidelines around gatherings.

What will it mean for wedding fashion, which before the pandemic often involved multiple outfit changes over the course of a weekend? Some industry watchers anticipate micro-weddings and more paired down celebrations to continue to be popular. The Spring/Summer 2021 collections released this week will indicate whether or not bridal trends are echoing the return to more formal, attention-grabbing styles other sectors of the fashion industry are already seeing.

The Bottom Line: Millennial brides were already gravitating toward less traditional dresses before the pandemic. Bridal designers will have to modernise their offerings to keep pandemic brides interested as large weddings return.

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