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“Oaxaca’s congress has just awarded Cultural and Intangible Heritage status to the designs, costumes, handicrafts as well as the languages spoken by the Indigenous peoples of a community called Mixe.”

“The ruling concluded that Indigenous peoples and communities have the social right to maintain, develop, preserve and protect their own identities and the elements that comprise them.”

Throughout the history of fashion one can see how different cultures influence each other with their design motifs, colors and methods of creations. Influence is the key word here. There is influence and then there is plagiarism. The recent happenings in Oaxaca, Mexico with a French designer taking physical blouses that are created by the talented Mixe indigenous people and sewing her label on the garment and charging upwards of $300 per blouse is certainly the latter. It is also an absolute disgrace and I feel she should be banned from the fashion world altogether.

I have stood next to a fashion scout at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe who was admiring beautiful purses created by an indigenous artist. We stood beside each other but couldn’t have been further apart in our experience. I was there to experience the beauty of the art, to see the weave, the lovely colors that were dyed by plants in the old tradition, to meet the maker, the artist. The fashion scout I could tell had a very different agenda. Taking photos and notes and asking questions that revealed glimpses of his agenda. If I remember correctly his badge said he was with Ralph Lauren. I still think about that day. I wonder if a certain designer has created similar purses in their own fashion line. And if so, is that just inspiration?

I was recently looking at a popular catalog and couldn’t help but notice a blouse that has an embroidery motif that is 100% Mexican. And another big fashion company that did a whole photoshoot in Mexico highlighting many garments that had fun, colorful embroidery in similar patterns. Of course neither of these companies made any reference to the influence of their designs or to the makers. Isn’t it time that the indigenous artists get some well deserved credit? And how about economic support in some way?

I am so curious to see how the recent ruling by Oaxaca’s Congress will help the people of Mexico preserve their culture, their art. This ruling is long overdue. I imagine designers will continue to use influences of indigenous artists but the plagiarism must stop. As consumers, we also need to take responsibility. Purchasing garments that are mass-produced in China that copy the designs of the talented artists in Mexico is nothing short of a slap in the face to the artists. We all need to be responsible consumers to rise above this plagiarism.