Designer Zhou Li took the stage to applause after her Chinese Fashion Week show with a politically-charged accessory: a bouquet of cotton trees.
“As for me, I think Xinjiang cotton is my darling, my love, that is, I am very grateful that it brought me such happiness,” said Zhou, 56. years, to Reuters after its show on Tuesday in Beijing. .
Zhou, chief designer and founder of Chinese fashion brand Sun-Bird, is a patriotic supporter of a boycott of several major Western clothing brands in China who have expressed concern over alleged rights violations in the province of Xinjiang.
She said her clothes shown on Tuesday, which featured sleek minimalist designs with ruffles and ancient Chinese characters, used exclusively cotton from Xinjiang.
“For our Chinese creations, I am certainly right to support the people of Xinjiang,” she said.
H&M, Burberry, Adidas and Nike are among the victims of the consumer boycott in China after their comments about alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang resurfaced on Chinese social media last week.
The backlash has put brands in an awkward position given the size of the market in China, where news and social media are tightly controlled by the Communist Party-controlled government and patriotic campaigns targeting foreign brands are common.
“First of all, as everyone knows, these are false statements (by brands),” model Zhao Yinuo, 19, said outside the event. “But of course I can’t comment too much on this as it involves political issues.”
“I have a sense of national pride,” she said.
Last week, the European Union, United States, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, accusing them of human rights violations in Xinjiang. China has retaliated with its own sanctions against lawmakers and academics. Xinjiang produces around 20% of the world’s cotton. Some researchers and lawmakers say authorities in Xinjiang are using coercive labor programs to meet seasonal cotton harvesting needs. China strongly denies these claims and asserts that all work in Xinjiang is consensual and contractual.
“I can’t believe our Chinese Communist Party would ever do such a thing,” a 19-year-old student surnamed Li said at the fashion event. “Our nation is very united.”
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