Walking the line between design and appropriation
September 28, 2022 | Anna Bruce
A fashion show in Oaxaca exposes a legacy of appropriation colliding with gentrification. Mexico and Mexican products, including mezcal and textiles, have been having an international ‘moment.’ It is amazing to see high-quality Mexican products around the world, which trigger passion and excitement for people, who often go on to pursue and “discover” the country for themselves. However this rapid expansion has put pressure on native producers, calling for scrutiny as to the intentions of brands and consumers. This also calls into question how socially sustainable the current local climate is, as more and more people flock to Mexico. Cultural appropriation is the hot topic on social media as users pool resources to assess the plagiarism and mis-use of customs and practices. Recent headlines around appropriation came from the streets of Oaxaca. “El Universal” reported cries of “culture is not for sale!” and “cutting is not designing!” as artisans, from throughout the state, protested the plagiarism of their designs. The trigger for this reaction was the Mercedes-Benz fashion week, which began on the 17th of August 2022. The extent to which designers profit from incorporating traditional designs without acknowledging their origins or fairly compensating communities is a growing issue. There have been numerous high profile examples where international fashion brands have appropriated traditional Mexican designs. Responding to these scandals, Mexican culture minister Alejandra Frausto, sent letters to the companies in question, asking each for a “public explanation as to how they could justify privatizing collective property”. As a photographer I have often found my work used without permission or credit. The feeling when this happens cuts deep, even though these are mostly minor incidents. So I can only begin to imagine the sense of exploitation and disrespect communities feel when their designs are used out of context and without consent. Ironically, watchdog Diet Prada posted my image of Oaxacan designer Nereyda Charis without permission, juxtaposed with another high fashion example of appropriation to illustrate this issue.