MEXICO CITY, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Cloaked in colorful haute couture, artisans and indigenous designers took a fashion event in Mexico City by storm while trying to build a sustainable future in an industry beset by plagiarism, instability and lack of money is threatened.
At Original, a government-sponsored fashion week dedicated to traditional textiles, artists showcased their designs and took on industry challenges under the motto: “No Negotiation, No Plagiarism, No Cultural Appropriation”.
World-renowned brands like Ralph Lauren and Chinese fast-fashion company Shein have been accused in recent months of plagiarizing indigenous Mexican designs, threatening the country’s ancient textile tradition.
“We need people to understand that this is not a mass process,” original board member Hilan Cruz, a backstrap loom craftsman from Puebla state, told Reuters. “What we do takes time, and that time should be evaluated both economically and in terms of product value.”
“This work is inherited,” he added. “Not only does it help pay for our daily lives, it represents our people, our community, our space, our life vision.” According to Cruz, Original tries to prevent counterfeiting by raising awareness of the quality and details of artisanal fashion.
But financial problems and problems competing with the big fashion industry have prompted the artisans’ children – who would have been trained in the craft in the past – to seek more stable work.
Peruvian Rosa Choque is the only artisan in her South American country to create designs based on her Chiribaya ancestors, some of which date back 500 years. She has no successor.
Her two daughters have moved away and looked for other jobs, since manual labor did not sell well and was often not valued. Choque himself has a second job.
Meanwhile, Mexican artisan Rosa Gonzalez works with her son. “He’s the one who has the ideas, I shape them and put them together,” she said, hinting at inspiration from the local wildlife.
The family used to make art canvas but switched to clothing because it was easier to sell.
“With our designs, anyone can wear a haute couture dress for gala parties and graduations. We even made them for brides,” Gonzalez said.
But lack of money has stifled innovation and prevented designers from investing in better production.
“I wanted to be modern while preserving my culture,” Peruvian designer Licet Alvarez, who wore face paint and a beaded kitsarenchy, a traditional costume of the Anaro people of central Peru’s central highlands, told Reuters. “But sometimes we don’t have access to the necessary materials.”
Plagiarism of ancient indigenous designs has drawn the ire of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. “They plagiarize designs from artisans and indigenous people from Hidalgo, Chiapas, Guerrero,” he told a news conference last week.
Brands can use pre-Hispanic or native designs, he said, but “there has to be recognition for their intellectual work, creativity, and no plagiarism.”
Reporting by Aida Pelaez-Fernandez; Editing by Sarah Morland and Leslie Adler
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