Mexican social media users mock Zara's new bag

After the backlash, Zara removed the bag from its Mexican website

Mexican social media users mock Zara's new bag
These bags are around MXN 50, in contrast with Zara’s MXN 591 price tag - Photo: Taken from Zara and Mercado Libre
English 08/07/2020 15:08 Mexico City Actualizada 15:08

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This week, fast-fashion brand Zara, owned by the Spanish conglomerate Inditex, was mocked by social Mexican media users after it released a new bag.

The bag in question resembles the ones used in Mexican markets and street markets and which Mexicans use to carry their groceries and produce. Moreover, these bags are around MXN 50, in contrast with Zara’s MXN 591 price tag. 

The new bag also prompted social media users to accuse the Spanish fast-fashion brand of appropriating Mexican culture and aesthetics. 

After the backlash, Zara removed the bag from its Mexican website. 

Zara & plagiarism
In 2018, EL UNIVERSAL reported artisans from Aguacatenando, in Chiapas, issued a lawsuit against the Zara, for plagiarizing their traditional embroideries.

Their embroideries are worn in Aguacatenando by their inhabitants every day and are now sold in different parts of the world by Zara.

Thanks to a non-profit called “Impacto”, the artisans could issue the lawsuit after one of their traditional embroideries were plagiarized by the Spanish brand.

Embroidery is not only an industry, but it's also important to emphasize that for many communities, it's a symbol of identity and considers that “it's disrespectful because those embroideries belong to our ancestors, they were taught to us by our grandparents. It's a tradition, it's not fair for them to copy them”, said María Méndez.

In the Aguacatenando community, 8 out of 10 women live in poverty and what they harvest is not enough. That's why their embroidery is so important, as it's the main income source.

María Méndez, an artisan, says that the plagiarism “affects us greatly because people don't want to buy from us, they can find it in a store or say they look similar”.

Nevertheless, the difference with artisanal embroideries is that they're made by hand and take up to a week to complete; meanwhile, the commercial embroideries take minutes to make and are produced by machines.

In regards to prices, the difference is notable: a handmade embroidery costs MXN 400, although many times they have to sell it for MXN 200, and in a store, it would retail for MXN 599.

The plagiarism of the traditional Mexican designs is not new: according to Impacto, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, and Chiapasare the most affected states, as eight international brands have stolen their designs. The Inditex group, which owns Zara, has declined to comment.

Cultural appropriation 
In recent years, Mexican artisans and authorities have accused international brands such as Carolina Herrera and Louis Vuitton of plagiarism and cultural appropriation. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has been affecting indigenous communities in Mexico for some time but it seems to have worsened in recent years.

But what is cultural appropriation? According to the Oxford Dictionary, cultural appropriation is “a term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.”
In short, cultural appropriation is when a dominant group steals and exploits cultural elements from a marginalized group. It is an unethical practice because it harms the communities.

In the case of Mexico, cultural appropriation is worrying for several reasons:

1. Powerful brands are appropriating cultural heritage from Indigenous artisans

2. These brands profit from Mexican artisans' labor while the artisans live in poverty

3. The communities and artisans are not acknowledged

4. Indigenous artisans do not have the same financial resources, tools, public relations, and platforms as international brands; artisans are at a disadvantage.

Copyright in Mexico
Although Mexican lawmakers are currently working on a bill to protect the artisans' intellectual rights, the majority of artisans are currently unprotected by Mexican law, therefore, recognizing their rights and their intellectual property has become an urgent matter.

Mexican designer Carla Ferández, who collaborates with Mexican artisans, emphasizes the importance of protecting and preserving Mexican art: "preventing the extinction of Mexican craft, [provide] employment, recognize the artisans, make the public understand that it is a cultural heritage of our country and the world -- that technique, and those hands, and those minds who create it."

In contrast, Carla Fernández says that if large brands want to incorporate Mexican embroideries into their clothing and produce them through an industrial process, they should ask for permission and learn “what does that community wants (…) sometimes they don't even ask for money, they want recognition, dissemination.” These types of strategies could pave the way for successful collaborations between brands and artisans.

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