It’s 2022, and fetishizing Mexican culture is still a thing. Whether it’s 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 Andrés Manuel López 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’s wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez, 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.
“Hey Ralph: We already know that you love Mexican designs,” Gutiérrez wrote. “Regardless, copying these designs is considered plagiarism and plagiarism is illegal and immoral.”
In response to Gutiérrez’s comment, a rep from Ralph Lauren said they were “deeply sorry this happened,” 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 López Obrador, who has been accused of corruption, authoritarian traits and verbally attacking the media. But despite the Mexican government’s deficiencies, this particular action — calling out corporations when they appropriate Indigenous culture — 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’s 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 Día 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’s 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.