Japanese apparel brands caught in the crossfire of the recent threats of boycotts against around a dozen international fashion labels that refuse to use cotton sourced from Xinjiang, or remain affiliated with international organisations, such as the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), that have a policy of not sourcing Xinjiang cotton, are in somewhat familiar territory.
There are long-running geo-political tensions between China and Japan dating back to the Second World War, with intermittent flair ups that have seen boycotts of Japanese products in the Chinese market occur with some regularity. This makes the divergent responses of some of Japan’s biggest players in the China market so interesting to observe.
As a BCI-affiliated company, Fast Retailing and its Uniqlo brand, China’s leading international mass market fashion brand by market share, were quickly listed among companies that angry netizens identified as potential targets for a boycott. Late last week, Uniqlo also lost a total of four Chinese ambassadors, including actress Ni Ni, who announced terminations of their individual agreements with the brand due to its stance on sourcing cotton from Xinjiang.
Kobe-based sportswear giant Asics, meanwhile, initially appeared to be one of a handful of international brands coming out in support of Xinjiang cotton sourcing, with a Weibo post from its official account saying it would continue to source cotton from the region. On Sunday, however, the brand responded to queries about its position by releasing a statement that read in part: “We are currently clarifying that the statement in question [from Weibo] was unauthorised as is not our official corporate position on this matter.”
This prompted Li Yifeng, a celebrity ambassador for Asics in China, to announce the termination of his relationship with the brand.
At the other end of the spectrum, Japanese lifestyle brand Muji has been the most vocal international brand to date in supporting its continued use of cotton from Xinjiang, as of the time of writing, Muji apparel for sale on the brand’s official Tmall store is still labelled as being made from cotton sourced from Xinjiang.
A detailed statement emailed to BoF from Muji read in part: “We recently conducted enhanced due diligence for factories in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region ... following the guidance issued by international organisations and various national governments ... The results confirmed that at this point, there is no significant issue identified except for those issues that can be corrected by farms or ginning factories taking actions on their own to make immediate improvements.”
BoF reached out to Fast Retailing for comment, but didn’t receive a reply prior to publication.
It remains to be seen how much each brand’s stance on the use, or not, of Xinjiang cotton, will impact its business within the China market, or markets elsewhere, for that matter.