Indigenous creators use fashion event to critique big brands


A model walks through a Mexico City fashion show, holding a dress with Indigenous design with both hands

A model walks the runway during the Original fashion week in Mexico City last month. Photo: Rodrigo Oropeza/AFP via Getty Images

Indigenous artisans took part in a series of fashion shows in Mexico recently to show off their designs and raise awareness of what they’ve denounced as plagiarism and cultural appropriation by major designer brands.

Why it matters: Millions of Indigenous peoples try to make a living and maintain their heritage by selling crafts and weaving designs but rarely see the profitsaccording to a recent report from the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

  • That’s partly because there isn’t a global patent standard for such works, and intellectual property laws in some countries can be confusinglawyers say.
  • So Indigenous folk artists sometimes accept haggled prices for fear of not selling — with losses up to 30%studies show — or their designs are simply stolen, with the artists receiving no credit or compensation.

Details: The Original fashion week in Mexico last month included Indigenous designers from Latin America and Africa, fair price sale stalls, conferences and catwalks.

State of play: Several big brands have been accused of unauthorized use of native designs from Mexico, Guatemala and Andean nations in recent years.

  • The fashion houses usually respond that their garments were inspired by the works and serve as homage.
  • Last month, Ralph Lauren apologized for selling an item denounced as ripping off zarapes from communities in northern Mexico. It said products with “Indigenous design motifs” would in the future require “credit and collaboration.”

What they’re saying: “There needs to be more ethical behavior in the fashion industry,” Alejandra Frausto, secretary of culture for Mexico, told Telemundo News.

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