The fashion world is facing a slew 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 often spark passionate debate, and while borrowing stylistic elements from other cultures is common practice, it may be offensive and cause economic harm to those whom the original idea or knowledge belongs. Calls for action to curb cultural appropriation emphasize a need for Indigenous peoples to have better control over their traditional cultural expressions (TCEs), including through the intellectual property (IP) 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 in the world of fashion. Brigitte shares how IP rights, in particular copyright law, fail to provide adequate protection for TCEs, making them vulnerable to cultural appropriation.