Cultural appropriation of Latin America is unfortunately all too common in the U.S., most recently with the backlash Kendall Jenner received for the promotion of her new tequila. Retailers are also no stranger to appropriation claims and now Zara and Anthropologie are under fire with Mexico coming after them for their latest designs. This isn’t the first time retailers like Zara and Anthropologie face accusations of cultural appropriation but this is the first time a government entity gets involved.
Last week, Mexico’s Ministry of Culture sent out letters to retailers, Zara, Patowl and Anthropologie asking them to explain the inspiration behind certain embroidery designs and clothing that they were selling.The brands all had merchandise heavily inspired by the designs of the Indigenous peoples of Oaxaca. They include in the letters, it said that it was acting to “prevent plagiarism … by national companies and transnationals,” adding they’re “protecting the rights of native peoples who have historically been disregarded.” They also asked for an “ethical framework” so that the companies work directly with the artisans. These designs have been a part of their cultural identity for thousands of years and are protected by the Mexican government. The Mexican government also asked for the proceeds to go to the actual communities it belongs to.
— Secretaría de Cultura (@cultura_mx) May 29, 2021
If you’ve taken a chance to look into the rapid acceleration of fast fashion and how they shorten the apparel calendar you’ll notice that in order to come up with designs with a quick turnaround they’re going to have to copy from other designers and cultures. And in my opinion this just continues as a modern form of colonization where the brands think they can get away with it because the marginalized communities lack resources to defend themselves or call them out on such a grand scale. And what western retailers forget to realize is how our patterns and designs also tell a story or carry important meanings behind them.
Apart from the sheer lack of integrity from the brands and the ridiculously high prices of the clothing, it’s also a blatant show of a lack of cultural awareness and respect. Considering racist and prejudice behavior toward Indigenous communities (and their attire), it also feels like it’s one of those cases where it’s cool if you’re rich and white but not if you’re brown and Indigenous. Between the design plagiarism, and celebrity tequila it appears as though Mexico is in. But when we bring up issues like the border crisis and the problems with drug tourism in Tulum and how it’s leaking into the water the conversation ends.
In a statement emailed to CNN, Zara’s parent company, Inditex, said it had “the highest respect,” for “the Ministry (of Culture) and the communities within Mexico,” but added that “the design in question was in no way intentionally borrowed from or influenced by the artistry of the “made use” of designs created by the country’s indigenous populations.” Neither Patowl nor Anthropologie’s parent company URBN responded to CNN’s request for comment.
As an Indigenous person myself I often get asked if it’s okay for people to wear our traditional clothing and yes, it’s fine. If you’re supporting the local economies and Natives making the clothing, jewelry and accessories. I definitely recommend doing your own research and making sure the money is going back to the communities as sometimes you’ll see, for example, a brand saying they’re selling authentic Wixarika beadwork but only 10 percent of it is returned to the community.