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Mexico City – Mexico has reacted to what it calls plagiarism of indigenous textiles by bringing together traditional artisans with international designers in a dialogue that aims at creating a more equitable fashion sector.

Hundreds of artisans and weavers from indigenous countries will gather at Los Pinos, Mexico City’s former presidential residence, this weekend for the “Original,” fair organized by the culture ministry.

There is an open-air market that sells clothes and accessories, such as the Huipil, a traditional white cotton blouse, with finely embroidered patterns. Also, there are fashion parades that resemble indigenous pride marches.

Mexico’s leftist government has declared that foreign fashion houses have culturally appropriated the motifs, embroidery, and colors of indigenous communities.

Plagiarism is not a tribute. At the fair’s opening Alejandra Frausto, Culture Minister, stated that theft is not an inspiration. She condemned “modern-day pirates”, who “take whatever they want and label it as any type of merchandise.”

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“Lack of communication”

After Frausto asked for an explanation about Marant’s use in her collection of traditional patterns from the Purepecha community, Isabel Marant issued an apology to Mexico. Major clothing brands such as Zara and Mango have also been subject to similar complaints. Marant stated that future designs will properly “pay tribute our sources of inspiration.” She also said that a representative of her company would meet with artisans in Mexico City, as well as one for Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

Two young Parisian designers met with Ignacio Netzahualcoyotl, a craftsman, and Christian Janat, his partner at the workshop in Tlaxcala east Mexico City. Netzahualcoyotl explained that plagiarism is the result of poor communication. He added, “We demand that our work is paid fairly.” After presenting his fabric to two Parisians, he stated that the price must include the design, the patterns and the hours worked. Theophile Delaeter, a French designer and co-creator with Alonso Calderon Hernandez, of Calher Delaeter’s brand.

‘It’s theft’

The fair featured indigenous artisans complaining about the possibility of finding copies of their fabric online. Candy Margarita de la Cruz Santiago (a young weaver from Oaxaca) said that they had fought for their fabric several months ago after finding a computer-reproduced Huipil. To address the problem, legal measures are being taken. Marco Antonio Morales Montes, a representative of National Institute of Copyright, stated that the new provisions, which were in effect since last year, require written consent from the communities when the textile art is to be made for profit. He said that Mexico also wants to have a conversation with the World Intellectual Property Organization on the matter.

Marta Serna Luis (58), an artist weaver, hopes the steps will lead to the recognition she seeks. We must enforce the law against those who are guilty of plagiarising. She said it was theft.