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The problem of finding beauty in cultural appropriation

Mexico has accused international fashion brands like Zara of using patterns from indigenous groups in their designs

Mannequins inside a Zara store in Spain. (Bloomberg)

Mexico has accused international fashion brands Zara, Anthropologie and Patowl of cultural appropriation, saying they used patterns from indigenous Mexican groups in their designs without any benefit to the communities.

Mexico's ministry of culture said in a statement that it had sent letters signed by Mexico's culture minister Alejandra Frausto to all three global companies, asking each for a "public explanation on what basis it could privatize collective property," reports Reuters.

An AFP report states Frausto told the brands not to undermine the cultures' "identity and economy", and called for changes that put indigenous designers from Mexico's 56 ethnic groups on an equal footing with major labels.

The protection of their rights, "which have historically been invisible", was an ethical principle that had to be addressed at a local and global level, she added.

The ministry of culture says Zara, owned by Inditex, the world's largest clothing retailer, used a pattern distinctive to the indigenous Mixteca community of San Juan Colorado in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Anthropologie, owned by URBN, used a design developed by the indigenous Mixe community of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, while Patowl copied a pattern from the indigenous Zapoteco community in San Antonino Castillo Velasco, both in the state of Oaxaca, according to the ministry.

URBN, Inditex, and Patowl could not be immediately reached for comment, reports Reuters.

In November, the ministry had challenged French fashion designer Isabel Marant over her latest collection which it said commercially exploited indigenous motifs, says the AFP report.

Two years ago, the Mexican government had accused fashion house Carolina Herrera of cultural appropriation of indigenous patterns and textiles from Mexico in its collection. Neither Carolina Herrera nor its parent company, Puig, could be immediately reached for comment, reports Reuters. In 2019, Herrera's creative director Wes Gordon reportedly said in a statement that the collection "pays tribute to the richness of Mexican culture."

The extent to which fashion designers have profited from incorporating cultural designs, whether from Mexico or India, without acknowledging their origins or fairly compensating communities has been a point of contention in recent years.

Earlier this year, singer Rihanna was accused of cultural appropriation and religious insensitivity after she posted a photo of herself on social media, wearing a pair of boxer shorts and a pendant in the image of Hindu god Ganesha.

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