World fashion designers rip off Pacific designs
A Turkish fashion designer has been accused of “misappropriating” Pacific Island designs in her collection at London Fashion Week recently.
Gul Agis’s “Tribal Attitude” is said to have been inspired by Turkey’s heritage and recent protests in Istanbul.
Some of the designs are based on the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, many others bear a strong resemblance to Maori design.
The accusation comes less than a month after global sports giant, Nike was forced to stop production on a women’s line of tights.
The Samoan tattoo-inspired collection caused a huge global backlash from the Pacific community worldwide.
Aroha Mead, Program Director of Maori Business at Wellington’s Victoria University told Pacific Beat Gul Agis’s collection stole from Maori culture.
“We are all inspired by the beauty of other cultures,” Ms Mead said.
“But there’s a big difference between being inspired by something and then outright stealing it.”
Unfortunately Pacific designs are not protected by intellectual property laws or copyright, so international designers have been able to use them without permission.
“You can prove in quite tangible ways that the ownership of them is retained by the community,” Ms Mead said.
“There’s enough work that’s been done that you can track a design down to the artist or to the community that it comes from.”
Sports brand Nike makes public apology
Nike recently found itself at the centre of controversy over a pattern of women’s tights that closely resembled a traditional Samoan tattoo reserved only for male chiefs.
The collection sparked an uproar within Pacific communities around the world who protested on social media and rallied together by signing a global petition.
Samoans found the range exploitative and succeeded in getting it pulled off the shelf.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi told the Savali newspaper “Those are our Samoan measina (cultural treasures). It’s our heritage and our cultural property. We should all be protective of it.”
“It should not be randomly exploited for commercial use as it has been in this case. Especially when we are getting absolutely nothing from Nike.”
Nike made a public apology to the Pacific community worldwide saying the collection was inspired by tattoo graphics and they did not mean to be insensitive or offensive to any specific culture.
Samoan prime minister has since instructed the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to look at how they can protect their traditional designs.
Alongside Nike, New York designer Nanette Lepore also apologised on Facebook for a collection of dresses she had designed featuring Fijian kesakesa motifs.
The apology came after Fijians around the world protested on the brand’s Facebook page.
What seems to be particularly offensive within Pacific communities is international designers appear to have not bothered researching the background of the designs they are using.
“[Nanette Lepore] took those Fijian prints and didn’t even bother finding out where they came from before she called them Aztec – she promoted those designs as Aztec designs.” Ms Mead said.
Samoans around the world were upset about their traditional tatau designs being exploited but were more angered by the fact that the cultural meaning behind the design was disregarded.
One petitioner on change.org complained that seeing women wear a tattoo specifically designed only for a male chief was both wrong and offensive.
Another wrote: “This reduces [tatau] to patterned tights rather than assigning it the mana (strength/respect) that it warrants.”
Hollywood star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson alongside Rugby heroes like Sonny Bill Williams have added to the growing popularity of Pacific tattoo designs.
In many creative industries there is a common misconception that some traditional cultural expressions are public domain.
World Intellectual Property Organisation are currently in negotiations to arrange an international convention on intellectual property and genetic resources as well as traditional knowledge and folklore.