Indigenous fashion designers and artisans challenge plagiarism on the Mexico catwalk


MEXICO CITY, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Wrapped in colorful haute couture, indigenous artisans and designers stormed a fashion event in Mexico City, while trying to carve out a sustainable future in an industry threatened by plagiarism, instability and lack of funds.

At Original, a government-run fashion week dedicated to traditional textiles, artists showcased their designs and tackled industry challenges under the slogan: “No haggling, no plagiarism, no cultural appropriation”.

World-renowned brands such as 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 craftsman from Puebla state, told Reuters. “What we do takes time, and that time needs to be valued both economically and in terms of product value.”

“This work is inherited,” he added. “It not only helps pay for our daily lives, but it represents our people, our community, our space, our outlook on life.” Cruz said Original seeks to prevent plagiarism by raising awareness of the quality and detail of handmade fashion.

But financial difficulties and problems competing with the large-scale fashion industry have pushed the children of artisans – who would historically have been apprentices in the craft – to seek more stable work.


Peruvian Rosa Choque is the only craftswoman in her South American country to make creations inspired by her Chiribaya ancestors, some dating back 500 years. She has no successor.

Her two daughters moved away and found other jobs because the craftsmanship did not sell well enough and was often not appreciated. Choque herself has a second job.

Meanwhile, Mexican artisan Rosa Gonzalez works with her son. “He’s the one coming up with the ideas, I shape them and put them together,” she said, referring to the inspiration of regional wildlife.

The family made canvas art but switched to clothing because it was easier to sell.

“With our designs, anyone can wear a haute couture dress for gala parties, graduations. We’ve even made some for brides,” Gonzalez said.

But lack of funds has stifled innovation and prevented designers from investing in better production.

“I wanted to be modern while maintaining my culture,” Peruvian designer Licet Alvarez told Reuters, dressed in make-up and a beaded Kitsarenchy, a traditional costume of the Anaro people of Peru’s central highlands. “But sometimes we don’t have access to the necessary materials.”

The plagiarism of ancient indigenous designs has angered Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. “They plagiarize the creations of artisans and natives of Hidalgo, Chiapas, Guerrero,” he told a news conference last week.

Brands can use pre-Hispanic or indigenous designs, he said, but “there must be recognition of their intellectual work, their creativity and no plagiarism”.

Reporting by Aida Pelaez-Fernandez; Editing by Sarah Morland and Leslie Adler

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