Woolworths could tell you a thing or two about hiring coups. The South African department store has just appointed Grammy-winning artist Pharrell Williams, who will spearhead sustainability-focused projects in his role of style director. Ian Moir, CEO of Woolworths Holdings, said at a press conference in Johannesburg on Thursday that he hopes the musician will help the company “make sustainability cool for the next generation of South Africans.” He further described Williams, whose textile company, Bionic Yarn, creates fabric out of recycled plastic bottles, as a “global icon for social cohesion, advancement through education, and environmental awareness.”
Woolworths is kicking off the collaboration with a competition that invites students to submit proposals for a “T-shirt that celebrates sustainability.” Williams will select his favorite designs, which will be produced by Bionic Yarn and sold at Woolworths stores across South Africa.
At the same time, Williams hinted at broader ambitions. The new collaboration, he added, will champion not only education in South Africa but also “food farming that goes easy on the planet.”
The partnership is part of the larger “harmonizing humanity” effort Williams announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. Also on the docket? A second run of Live Earth concerts, taking place on all seven continents, with the goal of raising awareness about climate change.
Still, not everybody’s pleased with the “Happy” hit-maker’s move. BDS South Africa, a Palestinian solidarity group, is among the naysayers calling on Williams to sever ties with Woolworths—at least, until the company divests from Israel.
“Given our history, as South Africans, we call for the boycott of companies, such as Woolworths, who continue to trade with apartheid Israel,” the organization said in a statement. “We trust that Pharrell Williams will heed our call.”