Photographs by Kevin Pineda for Image Amplified
It is now possible: you can wear an intricate gown made of richly embroidered upcycled fabrics over the course of an evening. Le très chic but made affordable and sustainable thanks to the first rental-only Scandinavian couture brand, Louise Xin.
In the Chinese-Swedish designer’s eyes, no need to spend an outrageous amount of money to own and wear that luxurious dress for just a few hours. We all know this garment will kiss the dust in your wardrobe until the next occasion takes place. And, let’s be honest, you’re not going to wear the same extravagant outfit again. “The way we consume doesn’t work,” Xin asserts with conviction. You thought you were doing your bit by shopping second-hand, and recycling your plastic and aluminium cans? Well, you better keep on reading because the planet is not the only victim here.
Invited by the Swedish Fashion Association to collaborate during Paris Fashion Week, Louise Xin hosted a panel to raise awareness of the genocide in Uyghur at the Swedish Institute in Paris – highlighting that 1 in 5 cotton garments in the global apparel market are tainted by forced labour from the Uyghur Region, 45% of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon (used in solar panels) supply comes from the Uyghur Region, and over 17 global industries – from agriculture to toys – are implicated in Uyghur forced labour. These facts are alarming. What is even more horrifying is that “no one speaks about it in the whole fashion industry,” Xin explained. “We have been feeding a huge monster, which is this whole fast fashion machine. And we need to break this system, not by pointing fingers at the government or a person, but by collectively responding to it.”
Other guests on the panel included Raphaël Glucksmann, member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, Nayla Ajaltouni, Co-organizer of the Éthique sur l’Étiquette collective, and Dilnur Reyhan, president of the European Uyghur Institute.
They all exchanged about the topic with the couture designer and activist, proving the fashion world might still have a soul.
“End Uyghur Forced Labour” is the coalition she is now working on, calling on all companies to exit the Uyghur Region at every level of their supply chain. “I need this ban to make sure I’m doing the right thing,” she emphasises. The most humbling thing about the designer is that she does not greenwash, admitting herself not knowing where most of her second-hand fabrics come from. How can you trace it, when you start really thinking about it? The vicious circle never ends. “How can we talk about sustainability, while still profiting from human suffering?”, she asks.
Her words, her thinking, are razor sharp, addressing the darkest shadows anchored within the fashion industry. Born from that questioning, her first show went viral with a low budget, and she will not present a new one until the ban she is supporting comes to term. She made it her duty to help in prohibiting any goods made through forced labour for sale on European ground. Since modern slavery is now estimated at 50 million people worldwide, it is not difficult to understand that it never ended, but shifted to a new form.
Louise Xin is the first European and fashion designer to have been nominated for the Sakharov Fellowship. Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai were laureates as well — yes, just that. Recognising individuals who outstandingly contribute to protecting freedom of thought, it comes with no surprise that the couture designer made it onto the list. Born in China, she left her home for Sweden at a young age, but never felt like she belonged. Growing up there helped her realise how much fashion could impact and serve as a tool in the creation of her very own identity. “Everybody is affected by fashion, whether you want it or not,” she claims, while reminiscing about her first fashion memory, a traditional Chinese dance and music performance contest. Culture and nature are important inspirations, two lenses among others, through which she explores and develops her artform.
Like many couture designers, she could have kept on creating uniquely outstanding clothes, and stopped there. But she went way beyond by making her own contribution to fashion history. Being Chinese herself, the risks she has been taking are heavy. Yet she decided to reach out to her community and offered the government her help. Their surprise over her initiative is but a euphemism. It is fair to say that there was no queue out the door. Self-taught, she was at the time, and still is today, trying to find the best way to advocate and tackle the system from its roots. “[Let’s] reimagine a new future where fashion can continue to flourish, but no longer under the cost of human suffering and the destruction of the environment,” she concludes. It becomes clear that consumers have a crucial role to play in this horrifying circus, by acting on their beliefs and spreading awareness around them.
If there’s one last thing to highlight is that perhaps the fashion education system should update itself and stop focusing on the past to open the eyes of the students on current issues and suffering that our industry is facing and causing. Knowing fashion history and its origins matters, and should be taught, but at the end of the day, the upcoming designers of today are already shaping the fashion of tomorrow. The question remains: at what cost?
 International Labour Organization, 50 million worldwide in modern slavery, September 2022, https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_855019/lang–en/index.htm