CITY OF MEXICO – Mexico must redouble its efforts to protect indigenous fashion designs from a plethora of global brands accused of borrowing or culturally appropriating handcrafted designs for years without giving credit, lawyers and observers said. ‘industry.
Their comments came as the Crafts Institute in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, accused Australian clothing brand Zimmermann of plagiarizing the patterns and designs of the ethnic Mazatec community in his “Pictures, the Riders Paneled” blouse. Tunic Dress and Wide Brim Boater ”, which is part of his 2021 collection.
“The cross stitch embroidery represents different symbolic elements like birds and flowers that reflect the nature of their communities, framed in different colored stripes that distinguish one community from another,” the institute said in a statement in the month. latest.
The action brought the increasingly thorny debate over cultural appropriation back to the forefront after other international labels – including Isabel Marant, Carolina Herrera and Zara – were embroiled in similar accusations in Mexico, fueling the outcry on social media.
The Oaxacan institute claimed that Zimmermann also borrowed elements of Jalapa de Diaz huipil, or traditional community attire, showing “great similarities” to the hand-sewn designs of the artisans “displaying a natural exuberance, like branches. , flowers and birds, which completely envelop the oils. . “
“We make a strong appeal to Zimmermann to explain the iconographic elements and techniques used in his 2021 resort-swim collection and request recognition of the artisanal work of the Cañada and Papaloapan communities,” the institute asked.
Like Marant, who was forced to issue a mea culpa last year, Zimmermann quickly apologized by posting the following post on Instagram: from the Oaxaca region of Mexico. We apologize for the use without proper credit to the cultural owners of this form of dress and for the offense this has caused.
“Although the error was not intentional, when it was brought to our attention today, the item was immediately removed from all Zimmermann stores and from our website. We have taken steps to ensure that this does not happen again in the future, ”the company said.
“Appropriate credit” is what Mexican communities and government officials increasingly demand that fashion brands making unauthorized use of indigenous designs or symbols should give impoverished communities, many of whom are completely unaware of their designs. appear on international fashion catwalks.
But their calls – including that of Mexican Culture Secretary Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, who last fall issued an ultimatum that Mexico will no longer tolerate cultural appropriation without due credit – so far do not appear to have prevented global brands use Mexican motifs and motifs in their designs. Experts said this should continue until the country’s intellectual property laws are fundamentally revised, indigenous groups are properly represented and more politicians join the cause for a much more coordinated campaign to making global brands responsible for plagiarism.
“The problem is that the laws are flawed and lack the attention of lawmakers and government institutions,” intellectual property lawyer Joaquín Elizalde said. “The procedures are long and expensive and many of these communities simply cannot afford them. “
He noted that the National Institute of Copyright (Indautor), the first body to hear an appropriation request, is in the process of being merged with the Institute of Industrial Property of Mexico, or Impi, to consolidate public funds, which makes the process of filing a claim and ultimately it has been heard or compensated by a local or even international court more ambiguous and difficult to follow. “The [legal] the community takes it badly, ”Elizalde said. “It will be more difficult to pursue claims with fewer people and a smaller budget. “
Mexico’s intellectual property law, Ley de Protección de La Propiedad Industrial, “must be rethought to take into account the geographic, cultural and social conditions of the indigenous communities in the country in order to immediately compensate them for the damage and it is simple enough to let the ethnic community demand it ”, according to Elizalde.
The law states that a foreign brand violating the intellectual property rights of a Mexican community must pay a fine. But ironically, the proceeds of such a penalty, if ever collected, must first go into the coffers of Mexico before being distributed to affected communities.
“It’s a two-step process when it should only be one,” Elizalde explained, adding that the actual steps for filing and pursuing a claim are also ambiguous. Theoretically (since formal prosecutions have not yet been launched), “the government would collect the fine and the community could then seek compensation from a civilian judge. This would be a separate process that could take three to four years with attorney fees of up to 60,000 pesos. [or $2,900 at current exchange]. “
To make matters worse, indigenous communities generally cannot afford to hire an experienced legal representative to lobby for their rights, Elizalde noted, adding that such representatives are hard to find as the prospect of such cases does not. not promise much profit for the law. companies.
Calls to change the law come in addition to a decree proposed by Mexican Senator Susana Harp. The senator – who has helped launch claims against foreign companies, including Marant (who has been criticized twice for using Mexican designs, in 2015 and 2020) as well as Carolina Herrera, who was criticized for employing Hidalgo community elements and Coahuila in its 2020 resort lineup – launched national law to protect the culture and identity of indigenous communities and groups in the spring of 2019. While the Mexican Senate overwhelmingly ratified it, the Lower House of Deputies did not see her again due to the pandemic. In Mexico, new laws must first win the Senate, then go to MPs before returning to the Senate for final approval.
“This law could complement industrial property law, but it does not have enough teeth to stand on its own,” said another intellectual property lawyer following the proposal, who requested anonymity.
One way to beat the complicated legal process of mounting a claim would be to allow communities to learn and understand their copyright, and then pressure them into the government – or an international advocacy group – to help them. to fight for them, experts said.
“Communities must step up pressure on their popular representatives and politicians and / or send a request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to have their cases heard,” Elizalde said, adding that advocacy groups could also join forces to institutionalize the cause. “The National Institute of Indigenous Communities and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, as well as academic and other organizations, should get involved in lobbying lawmakers sensitive to these issues to propose a recast decree. of the law.”
Rosalba Elizalde, lawyer advising on the Indautor / Impi merger, acknowledged that communities face enormous challenges in voicing or challenging an appropriation case.
Legal details aside, ethnic communities in Mexico are so diverse that it is incredibly complex to register copyright for hundreds of designs that mirror or overlap in all regions as well.
“If you save a certain design or embroidery, many other groups may have the same design, which makes the claim difficult to escalate,” explained Elizalde, who is not related to Joaquín. To avoid this problem, a community should appoint a representative with local experience in fashion and intellectual property, she added. Finding such a person – or entity – is, however, much easier said than done. So, to fight cultural appropriation more effectively, Mexico needs to strengthen its enforcement powers instead of just demonizing fashion brands, according to Elizalde.
“The government wants to make it look like it is protecting indigenous groups, which is a good thing, but its [execution] the systems don’t work and nothing really works, ”noted Elizalde. “The government could also offer trainings or workshops to community representatives to learn their intellectual property rights and how to negotiate them. This way, they can contact the brands and make a deal before copying them. “
Cándida Fernández de Calderón, who runs Fomento Cultural Citibanamex, in charge of cultural heritage protection, agreed that “government regulations should force collaborations between artisan communities and fashion brands” before they offer similar models. Without it, the rights of the community will be left to law firms, many of which are “uninformed on these matters”.
Observers said several collaborations had already been crowned with success, including that between Christian Dior and Mexican Mariachi. [folklore singer] communities that allowed the fashion house to use “escaramuzas” mariachi women’s costumes to dress models mounted on towering white horses for its Cruise 2019 collection runway show. Last year, Converse hired the designer Mexican Sentrock to launch a capsule collection of shoes called Mi Gente [My People] pay tribute to the successful young people of Latin America.
Meanwhile, as plagiarism issues continue to arise, Mexico’s left-wing administration may step up measures to protect local talent, especially as more politicians see the business value of fashion. ethnic.
“They are starting to realize that cultural creativity generates money, which is why they are taking more action against offenders,” Elizalde noted.
Much like craft spirits tequila or mezcal, or popular novels or soaps, Mexico could benefit from building an industry around indigenous clothing, footwear or accessories, she added. “Like chocolate in Belgium or olive oil in Spain, it is possible to develop a sector if you find the right ambassador. It could be a designer or a politician.