Global brands in Pacific traditional designs controversy

19/08/2013

Pacific Island design experts have blown the whistle on international fashion brands and designers for not acknowledging the source of some of their recent design themes as being inspired by the region’s traditional indigenous art.<!--more--> The controversy has involved both Fijian and Samoan motifs.

Earlier this month, the Fiji Arts Council raised its concerns in the media about how a New York fashion designer used indigenous iTaukei Masi or Tapa motifs on her dress and passed it off as being Aztec inspired.

When the council and private individuals complained, the designer apologised on her social networking page and acknowledged that the designs were indeed iTaukei-Fiji inspired.

Fiji Arts Council Director Laisiasa Veikoso has said Fijians needed to start registering local designs. “Our responsibility as a Fijian Community [should be] to register all our motifs from all confederacies, from all provinces, from all districts, from all villages,” she told media.

The Fiji Arts Council is calling on the government and various stakeholders to meet and work towards protecting indigenous artwork and motifs. Fiji’s national airline has made extensive use of such design in its rebranding strategy from Air Pacific to Fiji Airways recently.

This has brought greater exposure to Fijian Masi and other indigenous design elements on the world stage, and this is probably an opportune time for the country to leverage the exposure to its benefit.

Global footwear and fashion giant Nike last week seemed to have pulled a line of sportswear that was based on Samoan designs after an outcry that the designs were culturally insensitive. The women's running tights, bodysuit, and sports bra in the Nike Pro Tattoo Tech line were decorated with a pattern based on Samoan tattoos called Pe’a, which are traditionally reserved for men.

Pe’a cover the body in intricate patterns from the waist down to the knees in a process that isn’t only painful but extremely time consuming running into days or weeks. A traditional rite of passage, it stands for strength, courage and commitment to tradition.

Su’a William Sio, New Zealand Member of Parliament of Samoan origin told Television New Zealand, “Before you launch into something like this, there's generally a consultation with those…who have ownership of this pattern. I don't think Nike has taken the time to do that.”

According to the television station, the fashion giant issued a statement that read, “The Nike tattoo tech collection was inspired by tattoo graphics. We apologise to anyone who views this design as insensitive to any specific culture. No offense was intended.”

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