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Alejandra Frausto, the Culture Secretary of Mexico, has sent letters to Zara, Anthropologie and Patowl asking them to clarify on what grounds they have privatized the “collective property” of Mexican Indigenous Textiles in their collections without permission. In the same letters, Frausto asked the brands to indicate how they intended to compensate the communities affected.
The Mexican government accuses Zara, the world’s largest clothing retailer, of using a pattern distinctive to the Indigenous Mixteca community in the southern state of Oaxaca, in one of their dresses. Anthropologie incorporated elements created by the Mixe Community of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec in a pair of shorts; while Patowl made a “faithful copy” of the traditional clothes of the Zapoteco community for a T-shirt line.
According to Frausto, the protection of the rights of the Indigenous communities, “which have historically been invisible”, is an ethical principle that needs to be addressed at a local and global level. All three letters, sent by the Ministry, provided photos and information proving the use of the Mexican patterns into the design of the international brands’ collections. The letters asked the brands not to undermine the cultures’ “identity and economy”.
The designs that the brands allegedly copied from the Indigenous communities have a deep meaning and represent centuries of heritage and tradition for the Mexican people. Textiles from indigenous communities play different roles, and have social, cultural and economic functions for their communities. Furthermore, many of the techniques used by Mexican artisans have their origins in pre-hispanic times. Oftentimes the creation of this traditional pieces takes in a range from weeks to months to be made.
In the letters, Frausto ask the brands to “work together in a respectful way with the communities” without undermining the identity and the economy of them. Last November, Mexico made the same complaint to the French designer Isabel Marant, who later apologized to the government, and to the Indigenous community of Michoacán. In 2019, the Ministry of Culture also complaint about Carolina Herrera copying designs of the Tenango Community. The Spanish brand Mango, also owned by Inditex, has been singled out in the past for the same issue.
It is time for us to bring to the table the discussion about protecting the rights and the heritage of local indigenous communities all around the world, that oftentimes cannot do anything about, or even compete with big corporations. For a fast fashion brand might be just another design that will be in the stores for a short period of time; but for local communities these designs convey history, tradition, and many times it is also their main economic income.
+ Words: Leila Salinas, Luxiders Magazine
Journalist | Berlin-based
Connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram (@leisalinas)