Mexico accuses Zara, Anthropologie and Patowl of ‘cultural appropriation’

Written by Megan C. Hills, CNN

Mexico has accused fashion brands Zara, Anthropologie and Patowl of cultural appropriation, claiming that they “made use” of designs created by the country’s indigenous populations.

In a series of letters written to the brands, Mexico’s Ministry of Culture asked for a “public explanation.” It also called for “benefits” to be “given back to the creative communities” that it believes invented the embroidery techniques and design motifs.

The letters, which are signed by Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto Guerrero and dated May 13, were made public on Friday. They pinpoint several items of clothing from the three brands alongside corresponding examples of garments created by indigenous craftspeople from the Oaxaca region.
Mexico's government said that symbols featured on Anthropologie's embroidered shorts  are reminiscent of those used by the country's Mixe community.

Mexico’s government said that symbols featured on Anthropologie’s embroidered shorts are reminiscent of those used by the country’s Mixe community. Credit: Anthropologie

In a press release, the Ministry of Culture took issue with a blue embroidered midi dress by Zara. It claimed the Spanish brand had drawn on the ancestral symbols and traditional “huipil” dresses produced by the Mixtec people of San Juan Colorado, Mexico, adding that the dresses typically take craftspeople at least one month to make. The item in question is no longer available for sale on Zara’s website.

A pair of embroidered shorts by Anthropologie were also highlighted as an alleged example of cultural appropriation. The Mexican government claimed that the item, which cost nearly $70, features symbols reminiscent of those used by the Mixe community, in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec. The shorts were still available for sale on Anthropologie’s site on Monday.
Patowl’s “casual flowers” shirts were meanwhile said to have been inspired by the embroidery techniques of the Zapotec community of San Antonino Castillo Velasco. The government alleged the handmade floral embroidery on Patowl’s shirts was an imitation of a complex technique known as “hazme si puedes” (“make me if you can”), and include the community’s pansy motifs, among others.
Mexico believes that Patowl's "casual flowers" shirts borrow from the embroidery techniques of the country's Zapotec community.

Mexico believes that Patowl’s “casual flowers” shirts borrow from the embroidery techniques of the country’s Zapotec community. Credit: Patowl

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 Mixtec people of Mexico.”

Neither Patowl nor Anthropologie’s parent company URBN responded to CNN’s request for comment.

In its press release, the Ministry of Culture said that indigenous communities’ “collective property” had been “privatized” by the brands, calling on them to create an “ethical framework” to work directly with its craftspeople.

The Ministry of Culture compared a Zara dress (pictured) to the "huipil" dresses produced by the Mixtec people of San Juan Colorado, Mexico.

The Ministry of Culture compared a Zara dress (pictured) to the “huipil” dresses produced by the Mixtec people of San Juan Colorado, Mexico. Credit: Zara

It said that it was acting to “prevent plagiarism … by national companies and transnationals,” adding that it was “protecting the rights of native peoples who have historically been disregarded.”

This is not the first time Mexico has accused brands of appropriation. Last November, French designer Isabel Marant apologized after the country’s Ministry of Culture claimed her label had used a pattern created by the Purepecha community. Marant offered her “most sincere apologies,” according to the BBC, saying that she would “pay tribute to our sources of inspiration” in the future.
In 2019, the ministry also accused American womenswear brand Carolina Herrera of using Mexican patterns “without permission, without respect, without any economic consideration.” Though the label did not respond to CNN’s request for comment at the time, creative director Wes Gordon said in a statement to the Guardian that the brand had tried to “highlight the importance of this magnificent cultural heritage” and was a “tribute to the richness of Mexican culture.”

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