‘When I Found Out What Happened in Xinjiang, It Really Broke my Heart’: Interview

Chinese-Swedish designer Louise Xin dedicates her first digital fashion show to the Uyghur community.
Models wear gowns made by designer Louise Xin while displaying signs and a banner during a digital fashion show in Stockholm, Sweden, August 2021.
Photo courtesy of Louise Xin

Louise Xin is a Chinese-Swedish fashion designer who launched her eponymous Stockholm-based brand in November 2020 as Scandinavia’s first rental-only couture label. Xin turns upcycled materials into elaborate and colorful handmade dresses for customers to rent instead of purchase, hoping to change consumption patterns in the name of sustainability. She dedicated her digital fashion show on Aug. 31 to the Uyghurs to raise awareness about the genocidal policies targeting the predominantly Muslim minority group in northwestern China's Xinjiang region. The five-minute video presentation ended with a model wearing a newspaper print coat and unraveling a banner that said “Free Uyghur: End All Genocide.” The China-born Xin spoke to reporter Nuriman Abdurashid of RFA’s Uyghur Service on Thursday about her why she decided to use couture to call attention to the plight of the Uyghurs, what inspired her to do a fashion show-cum-protest, and how she has enlisted the help of Jewher Tohti, daughter of detained Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, to draw attention to the use of Uyghur forced labor in the apparel industry. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: How did you come to use couture to promote awareness of the plight of Uyghurs?

Louise Xin: I also believe that all the problems caused by humans in this world are really based on the false belief that we are separate, that there is a “we” and a “them” — that we are Africans, Chinese, Christians, Muslims, that we are different. And that we only see the differences instead of how similar we all are and how we are to united, that there's nothing that one person can do that will not affect someone else in the end. Everything is really connected — not only us, but also the animals in nature. And we just understood that we would not use our advantage against each other or against nature or against animals. We will understand that everything we do will come back to us. It’s with this belief that I started this plan that for me, it's not a trend to focus on sustainability or diversity. For me it's one and the same problem or issue. We need to do whatever it takes to contribute to a better society. With everything we do, we should leave the world a little bit better than how we found it. If everybody had the same mindset, we would have an amazing, magical world. So, for my very first fashion show I dedicated it to the Uyghur community because I'm Chinese myself. When I found out what happened in Xinjiang, it really broke my heart. At first I couldn't believe it because it was against everything I believed in growing up as a kid. I just couldn't understand how we can let something as terrible as this happen today in 2021, and that we're not doing more about it.

I tried doing things with political parties and contacting the government and assistance organizations, but I got “nos” from everybody. I never felt so hopeless in my whole life, [and] I never felt so small in my whole life. And then I just stopped for a moment and [realized that] the only way I could help would be through my creativity, my fashion, my dresses. And that's how the show came about. Today I just put up a GoFundMe [fundraising appeal] for Uyghur kids in exile. Most of them are in Turkey at the moment. I really think that if you give a person a fish they will have food for a day, but if you teach them how to fish, they will have food for life. There is this school that educates [Uyghur] kids and keeps them safe like a kind of community and family. I think it's amazing, and I really want to support that. These kids are just like us. There's no difference between us and them. They too have dreams and hopes. I really hope that with this GoFundMe [appeal] and with this [fashion] project that we can make their dreams come true.

RFA: What inspired you to do this kind of fashion show?

Louise Xin: It came to me when I was at a really low point in my life and I felt so sad with everything that was going on with my personal life. Then [I thought] that what the people I said I was going to help are going through is about 10,000 times worse than anything I’ve ever gone through in my entire life. [I told myself that] I could not sit there and pity myself when there's so many people out there who don't have even their own voice and that that had become such a strength for me. So, it gave me all the fuel and power needed to create this fashion show. For me, this has been a cause that I have been very passionate about for over a year’s time now ever since I started this brand. It’s something that is not just a trend, but something I’ve tried to educate myself about and try to do what I can do in a longer period of time.

At the same time, I spoke to a friend and told her that I couldn't understand how other people didn't feel as devastated as I was about the genocide [of the Uyghurs], because this is the worst thing that has happened after the Holocaust. How can people know but not care more about it? What she said was that everybody relates to different things depending on their own background. I relate to this because I come from China, and it's so close to me. That's why I invited all these models [to take part in the digital fashion show]. They are all come from different backgrounds and most of them made it on their own with their passion alone. They celebrate human rights causes, and because I’m using this show to raise a voice for the Uyghur community, I want them to raise their voices for what they are passionate about as well.

RFA: Even though certain apparel manufacturers know about Uyghur forced labor in the production of clothing, they have continued to do business with China. What is your message about this to the apparel industry?

Louise Xin: I would like to say that, first of all, I understand them. I understand that they have a lot to lose because at the end of the day we're all humans and we just want to try to make a living. Behind a huge corporation, a huge brand, there's also a person who has a heart and feelings and who cares. That very person is the person I'm talking to right now. I really hope that we can understand how powerful we actually are and that we don't need to be afraid because if people are united they can really do so much to change [the world]. The power [of individuals] is more powerful than that of any corporation or state or anything that can be against us.

I believe that once you warm people's hearts, everything else will [follow]. So the worst thing is that they will lose money, maybe in the beginning, if you endorse them. Maybe that's why a lot brands are very afraid of doing that. But what can be worse than to lose your humanity? … I totally understand them. I understand that there's a lot at stake. But I think that if we just act out of courage and face instead of fear, it will be a totally different kind of industry and totally kind of society.

RFA: Do you have any other plans to continue to raise awareness about the Uyghur forced labor issue?

Louise Xin: In doing this show, I came into contact with this amazing friend. Jewher [Tohti], with whom I'm going to have a live Instagram talk. We're going to talk about [Uyghur] forced labor and how important it is [and] how we can use our power as a company to end [it.]. She will be talking about the importance of how we need to endorse the call to action. I really hope that as many people as possible can join this live talk because what she has to say is extremely important. I've learned so much about her and about this whole situation just in the two or three days after we met each other.

Reported by Nuriman Abdurashid for RFA's Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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