The fashion world is facing a burst of accusations of cultural appropriation. For example, French designer Isabel Marant was criticized in 2015 for designing a dress similar to a traditional blouse that has been made for centuries by the Mixe people, an Indigenous community in Mexico. Cultural appropriation cases spark passionate debate and while borrowing of stylistic elements from other cultures is common practice, it can not only be offensive but can cause economic harm to those that the original idea or knowledge belongs. Calls for action to curb appropriation emphasize a need for Indigenous peoples to have better control over their traditional cultural expressions (TCEs), including through the intellectual property system and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
CIGI fellow, Brigitte Vézina explains the concept of cultural appropriation, drawing on examples of cultural appropriation in the world of fashion. Brigitte shares how intellectual property rights, in particular copyright law, fails to provide adequate protection to TCEs making them vulnerable to cultural appropriation.