Maybe It's Time To Stop Plagiarizing Mexican Fashion

Ralph Lauren is the latest in a seemingly endless series of brands to reportedly appropriate Indigenous Mexican designs.
Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost Photo:Getty Images

It鈥檚 2022, and fetishizing Mexican culture is still a thing. Whether it鈥檚 sorority girls wearing sombreros on Cinco de Mayo or clothing brands that copy/paste traditional Mexican designs without credit, some people seem to think they have a free pass to appropriate our culture.

Since he took office in 2018, Mexican President Andr茅s Manuel L贸pez Obrador has taken one step in combating that disrespect by calling out major fashion brands that appear to have plagiarized Indigenous Mexican designs. On Thursday, the president鈥檚 wife, Beatriz Guti茅rrez, went on Instagram and accused Ralph Lauren of appropriating Contla and Saltillo Native designs on a cardigan that was retailing for a couple hundred dollars.

鈥淗ey Ralph: We already know that you love Mexican designs,鈥 Guti茅rrez wrote. 鈥淩egardless, copying these designs is considered plagiarism and plagiarism is illegal and immoral.鈥

In response to Guti茅rrez鈥檚 comment, a rep from Ralph Lauren said they were 鈥deeply sorry this happened,鈥 and said the brand was unaware that the cardigan was still being sold after having been flagged months earlier.

Ralph Lauren is by no means an outlier. The president and his wife have also called out brands like Louis Vuitton, Zara and Shein for similar instances of appropriation, per Reuters.

To be clear, we are in no way praising L贸pez Obrador, who has been accused of corruption, authoritarian traits and verbally attacking the media. But despite the Mexican government鈥檚 deficiencies, this particular action 鈥 calling out corporations when they appropriate Indigenous culture 鈥 is at least a notable step toward affirming people whose art, and indeed whose very existence, is often exploited and devalued.

Plagiarizing Indigenous Mexican designs is particularly damaging given that much of Mexico鈥檚 Indigenous population lives in extreme poverty. These are the communities that created what a great deal of the world considers Mexican culture, from our unimpeachable food to celebrations like D铆a de los Muertos.

When the Spanish colonized Mexico, they were shocked at the accomplishments of the weavers and embroiderers there, per the Victoria and Albert Museum. That same textile tradition is what certain fashion houses are usurping now. Traditional Mexican textiles like the ones that Ralph Lauren reportedly ripped off employ a combination of Spanish and pre-colonial techniques that are primarily preserved by Indigenous communities.

It鈥檚 wild how nonchalantly major clothing retailers copy Mexican designs without any due credit or respect toward the Indigenous communities they are drawing from. These designs are quite literally the fabric of a people who are no strangers to theft and disrespect. There is a history behind our clothes, and the people who make them deserve to be acknowledged.

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