The Ecuadorian fashion photographer Saul Endara denounced last week in his social networks an alleged case of a copy starring Loewe, a luxury Spanish fashion house. Two products of the spring-summer collection of this brand have drawings almost the same to an Andean graphic that represents indigenous women from behind, known in Ecuador mainly in “Otavaleña” textile production.
Through a telephone conversation from Mexico, Endara indicates that this collection is inspired by the boho-chic, but there is no reference of transformation, at least in the case of a sack and a shigra, bags known by those names in Ecuador. These garments have the impressions of two and three people on their backs, respectively, with a white hat, braid or low ponytail and silhouettes of a single color that simulate colored ponchos of red, green or blue tones.
Inspiration differs from copying when there is a process of transformation in design, says the photographer.
The Ecuadorian designer Miguel Moyano, based in Colombia, believes that it is a case of cultural appropriation. “Loewe would be taking iconography belonging to another culture, for commercial purposes and without understanding it, giving it a superfluous use,” he says via email.
Cultural appropriation has other problems, according to Moyano: the communities from which dress, music, cooking, medicine, religious symbols or others are taken without authorization usually do not receive any economic benefit. These ethnic groups or peoples have been, in general, oppressed and exploited by hegemonic groups.
This is not the only case in the fashion industry. One of the most important happened in 2015, when the brand of the French designer Isabel Marant launched similar dresses, in terms of silhouette and embroidery, to those worn by the women of the Mixe people in Mexico. The Mexican State filed a complaint and the designer apologized and acknowledged that the source of inspiration for these dresses was the community of Oaxaca.
Plagiarism and copying is recurrent in the fashion industry, to the point that accounts have been created in social networks dedicated to denouncing these infractions. Diet_Prada is the most recognized and has achieved 117 thousand followers because humor is their method of complaint.
Moyano says that this happens because ““fad” always has been one of the uncontrolled passions of fashion”. This adds to the fact that this industry responds to a system based on productive and commercial speed.
In countries like the United States, indigenous people have chosen to register some of their products as trademarks, with the aim of protecting them from being copied. In Ecuador, you could protect these images if they were registered as a trademark or if the work done was protected under copyright, according to Santiago Cevallos, director of the Ecuadorian Institute of Intellectual Property.
Being the image used by Loewe an Andean and transcultural iconography, because similar expressions are found in Peru and Bolivia, the author is not known and therefore there is no strict violation of copyright.
In the country, the National Institute of Cultural Heritage protects the knowledge and traditional techniques of the people and communities, but not the products in their materiality, according to Joaquín Moscoso, director of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage.
This case of alleged copy of Andean iconography can be seen as an “opportunity to promote work among artisans, generating conscious design and research processes,” says Moyano. (I)