22 July 2022TrademarksStaff writer

Mexico questions Chinese retailer’s use of Mayan design

Artisan brand hit out at ‘lack of recognition’ over complex embroidery designs | Government requests the ecommerce platform works more ethically with indigenous communities.

Mexico has asked Chinese retailer Shein to explain why it has used a design by Mayan artists in one of its garments.

Mexico’s Culture Ministry alleged that some details of Shein’s “Fan-shaped top with floral print” were similar to a traditional huipil (short blouse) embroidery made by artisan brand YucaChulas.

“These designs have been transmitted from generation to generation, so they are the product of a collective creativity that corresponds to the Mayan people,” said the ministry’s letter to Shein.

YucaChulas had complained on social media that Shein’s garment, claiming that the details of the flowers, leaves and colours are identical to its own design, made in 2017.

“It is a lack of recognition to the work of the artisans who are dedicated to this work,” said YucaChulas, adding that it is sad how “many people keep buying from the platform without knowing the real origin of many of the designs they sell”.

Short blouses or huipil are made in various Mayan communities in the states of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo. The embroidery involves hours of work.

According to a release from the ministry, its letter also states that this type of action puts “artisanal work at a disadvantage, compared to one carried out in a massive and industrial manner, affecting the economy of the original bearers and creators”.

“From the Ministry of Culture of Mexico we invite you to develop respectful work with indigenous communities within an ethical framework that does not undermine the identity and economy of the peoples,” said the press release.

Reuters has reported that Shein has removed the product from its website and that it has no intent to infringe anyone's intellectual property.

Mexico has previously called for brands to explain their use of indigenous Mexican designs without crediting the artists. In June last year, Mexico accused fashion brands Zara, Anthropologie and Patowl of cultural appropriation.

In January 2020, the government amended Mexico’s Federal Copyright Law to place obligations on companies or people who use or exploit traditional knowledge and cultural expressions, including the requirement of written consent from the indigenous community that owns the work.

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