Italian fashion label Max Mara is being called out for its blatant copying of traditional designs from ethnic minority groups.
In its Spring/Summer 2019 collection, the global brand allegedly plagiarized designs created by the Oma people, an ethnic group from the mountainous north and north-east regions of Laos.
“Our grandparents passed down these traditions to our parents, and our parents to us,” Khampheng Loma, Head of Nanam Village, was quoted as saying. “We are the Oma people, and we preserve our culture by making and wearing our traditional clothes. We need them especially for funeral rites, out of respect to our ancestors.”
“Working with embroidery and applique is very challenging,” Khampheng Loma pointed out. “Each motif is difficult and time-consuming to make. But, this is our tradition. Now, we can make products to sell to help support our families.”
The cultural community of the Oma people has earned support from advocates who have demanded Max Mara to not only pull the clothing line from its physical and online stores, but also make a public commitment to not plagiarize cultural designs again.
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Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre in Luang Prabang has accused themulti-million dollar fashion brand of exploiting cultural designs and heritage of the Oma without any acknowledgment or compensation.
Examples of the design theft and cultural appropriation were reportedly discovered by the centre’s staff in Croatia, leading to the accusations against the fashion giant.
Lauren Ellis, a former employee of Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, reportedly stumbled upon the Max Mara collection in one of the brand’s stores in Zagreb, Croatia, Laotian Times reports.
“I had to do a double take,” Ellis said. “It was only because I had worked in Laos that I immediately recognized the designs as Oma. They had copied the patterns exactly. I couldn’t believe that this major brand would sell such blatantly stolen designs.”
TAEC and members of the Oma people are now seeking to bring attention to the alleged intellectual property infringements by the high-end fashion chain.
“The handmade textiles of the Oma are incredibly detailed, taking a huge amount of time, skill, and patience,” TAEC Co-Director Tara Gujadhur noted. “To see them reduced to a printed pattern on a mass-produced garment is heartbreaking.”
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