No, that labour camp jumpsuit isn’t a Yeezy

Who: Human Rights Foundation and Taxi.

What: A quick-thinking (and acting) guerrilla advertising campaign to raise awareness about the clothing industry’s use of cotton made by forced labour involving Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims in China. The campaign was, shall we say, inspired by Kanye West and the Gap—although not explicitly about them.

When & Where: The posters started appearing around New York City last Friday (June 18) just days after the Gap launched an ad campaign promoting the first product from its collaboration with Kanye West’s fashion brand, Yeezy.

Why: On June 8, Gap and Kanye West revealed their surprise first drop—a plain blue puffer jacket selling for $200. Posters, newspaper ads, and street projections showed the jacket on a plain white backdrop with nothing but a QR code. The jacket and ad campaign generated a lot of attention, and the jacket reportedly sold out in hours.

Taxi has done some work with Human Rights Foundation in the past, and it’s an organization that “has the appetite to do provocative work,” said James Sadler, executive creative director of Taxi Vancouver. The agency had a proposal to leverage the hype around the Gap Yeezy to raise awareness about the human rights abuse problem facing the fashion industry, and had it in front of HRF within a couple of days of the Gap/Yeezy campaign launching.

“As many as one in five cotton products in the world are the result of forced labor in Xinjiang,” said HRF’s chief program officer, Céline Assaf-Boustani, in a release. “This is actually part of a broader strategy perpetrated by the Chinese government — a system of abuse that has been recognized as a genocide by the United States. Genocide that fashion brands are profiting from.”

How: Taxi created posters mimicking the Gap and Yeezy ads, but instead of a blue puffer jacket, they used a blue jumpsuit similar to those worn in Chinese work camps. And instead of a QR code about the product, theirs links directly to an HRF webpage that provides information about forced labour in China and suggestions for how to take action. “Don’t buy clothes made with violence,” reads the headline.

“What we have done is designed this to look like the next Yeezy Gap drop,” said Sadler.

But the campaign isn’t about one retailer as much as the whole industry; it’s just capturing some of the attention from the Gap campaign. “We’re not implicating the Gap… We’re making it a broader statement about the fashion industry,” he said.

Neither the ads or the landing page mention the Gap, but it is among a large number of clothing brands that have been accused of profiting from forced labour in China.

According to the HRF site, more than one million Uyghurs from Xiajiang province are trapped in forced labour camps across China.

“Multiple fashion brands and international companies have been found to be profiting from this genocide. Some do so openly, others cover up their ties to forced labour by claiming that they cannot completely trace their supply chains,” reads the site.

What does the Gap say?: Here’s part of the Gap’s response, posted to its website: “We can confirm that we do not source any garments from Xinjiang. We also recognize that a significant amount of the world’s cotton supply is grown and spun there. Therefore, we have taken steps to better understand how our global supply chain may be indirectly impacted, including working with our suppliers and actively engaging with industry trade groups, expert stakeholders, and other partners to learn more and advance our shared commitment to respecting human rights.”

Is the campaign working? Taxi is still having posters put up around the city, and they’re starting to get some buzz online, although others are unsure what to make of the posters.

David Brown