Mexico Questions Zara, Anthropologie and Patowi Over Indigenous Designs

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Mexico’s secretary of culture Alejandra Frausto Guerrero has sent a letter to Zara, Anthropologie and Patowl accusing the labels of using cultural elements from Indigenous people, according to a report by AFP Saturday.

In letters to each of the brands sent earlier this month, Frausto said that Zara’s Midi dress carried a belt with features from Oaxaca, while a pair of embroidered shorts from Anthropologie had details linked to Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, and Patowl printed T-shirts with elements linked to San Antonino Castillo Velasco, according to the report.

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Frausto is known for her efforts to raise awareness of cultural appropriation in the fashion industry and curb “indiscriminate” use of certain cultural elements without due credit or collaboration, and has tangled with labels including Carolina Herrera and Isabel Marant.

In an interview with WWD last year, Frausto said that a number of high-end labels have used iconography of towns and communities from Mexico and other countries without paying for them. “As the government of Mexico, we have promoted an initiative for the protection of the collective rights of our communities, and the use of these cultural elements by fashion firms forces us to call for attention to promote inclusion and make the invisible visible, put them in the center,” she told WWD in November.

In a letter to Marant last year, Frausto took issue with the Gabin Cape from the fall 2020 Isabel Marant Étoile collection for drawing on designs from Indigenous Mexican communities like the Purépecha of Michoacán.

Taking the issue to Twitter at the time, Frausto said in a tweet sharing Marant’s response, “We invite international designers to be allies in the defense of the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, recognizing their value and diversity.”

Last July, Zara removed a controversial new clutch from the Mexican market, bowing to pressure from angry consumers who accused it of launching a purse that looked exactly like those Mexicans use to carry groceries — but at a much higher price.

Mexico’s government recently drew up a law to protect the country’s cultural identity, as expressed by Indigenous groups and communities “to avoid profiteering from their designs in what is known as ‘cultural appropriation.’”

The legislation calls for severe fines and even jail for brand executives found guilty of engaging in the activity.

Zara owner Inditex said in an emailed statement “we welcome the opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings with the Ministry and the communities within Mexico — both of which we have the highest respect for. In any cast it is important for us to clarify that the design in question was in no way intentionally borrowed from or influenced by the artistry of the Mixtec people or Mexico.”

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