From Trademark and Copyright Law:
If you haven’t heard already, New York Fashion Week is here! As usual, a lineup of awe-inspiring shows is expected to roll out over the next several days, as it does every September and February, highlighting the latest fashion trends of some of world’s most famous designers. One of the big stories surrounding New York Fashion Week this year is the amount of cultural diversity expected to appear on the runway. The Council of Fashion Designers of America recently penned a letter to New York Fashion Week designers, stating “[a]s you cast your New York Fashion Week shows, please remember to promote diversity and inclusion, on and off the runway.” The Council also released a diversity report making the case for cultural diversity in fashion. Designers are expected to take heed. In fact, they did just that for the September New York Fashion Week shows, where over 40 percent of New York’s runway models were reported to be models of color.
Although casting for runway shows appears to be moving in the direction of cultural diversity, some believe the fashion industry itself is facing a crisis with cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the co-opting of intellectual property, cultural expressions, traditional knowledge or artifacts from another’s culture (usually a minority or indigenous group) without their input, consent, credit, or compensation. Many of us are familiar with claims of cultural appropriation in the entertainment world (for example, Elvis appropriating black music or the Kardashian sisters co-opting hairstyles traditionally worn by women of African descent).
In the fashion world, claims of cultural appropriation are nothing new. Critics argue that western designers steal traditional design elements from marginalized people, which equates to intellectual property infringement, while defenders respond that it’s not cultural appropriation at all, but instead cultural appreciation or inspiration. Sometimes these disputes lead to lawsuits and, unfortunately for brands accused of appropriation, they often play out in the media as well.
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French designer Isabel Marant, known for her bohemian aesthetics, came under fire when an indigenous Mixe community of Oaxaca, Mexico, accused Marant of copying its traditional embroidery design. The Mixe community alleged that Marant engaged in “plagiarism” by using its 600 year old cultural expression and claiming it as her own novel creation. This led to a Twitter storm, with posts comparing Marant’s design with the Mixe design, and discussions concerning cultural appropriation in the fashion industry.
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MAC Cosmetics was called out for cultural appropriation after it debuted its VIBE TRIBE line of cosmetics in May 2016. To market its product, the company used the trademark VIBE TRIBE, together with a trade dress (i.e., product packaging) that many believed looked like Native American prints from the American southwest. MAC also allegedly adopted an ad campaign featuring “ethnic-looking” models wearing feather hair accessories and tribal attire. Despite product names such as “Arrowhead” for lipstick, “Adobe Brick” for blush, and “Wild Horses” for eyeshadow, MAC stated that its collection “has absolutely no connection to nor was it inspired by the Native American cultures.” Although no lawsuits were filed by Native American tribes, MAC faced a backlash in social media, with complaints from consumers and others, who felt that MAC was engaging in cultural appropriation.
Link to the rest at Trademark and Copyright Law