“Passport to Stealing” | Designer Nanette Lepore’s Misappropriation of Fijian Designs #Fashionlaw

I must say folks that I am stunned with the sheer lack of connection Nanette Lepore has with reality, based on her statements post the controversy over her alleged “theft” of Fijian cultural designs.

In a nutshell, Nanette purchased Fijian cultural iconic print fabrics, designed and made the product available for sale. Subsequently, the New York Fijian community discovered the misappropriation and boy did they get angry. For over a month, they went on her facebook page and began calling her out on the alleged theft. Further, they organized/planned a protest and also turned the clothing feature in Women’s Health Magazine titled ‘Passport to Style’ on its head with the title ‘Passport to Stealing.’

To quote an excerpt by one of the activist in Tautalatala:

“I will not be silent in having a major international fashion designer steal designs and patterns from Fiji, especially when this knowledge is so clear for anyone and everyone,” she said. “In addition, she is generating profits from these designs and patterns that are sacred and revered. Furthermore, not only is Fiji and Fijian art not acknowledged but the information (she describes them as Aztec) is incorrect and misleading. I am here to share and stand for the truth. I am here to educate and bring awareness to those who are unaware and unfamiliar. .  .”

What surprises me is Lepore has finally and fully addressed the issue in a recent interview and boy does she sound totally clueless about some basic fact checking in the design process, especially since she also ended up tagging the designs ‘Aztec.’

Also, this kind of misappropriation has been happening for quite a long time. I indeed have written and covered such misappropriations with respect to Kenya (Marc Jacobs alleged Massai appropriation), Ethiopia (Mathew Williamson’s alleged misappropriation of the Ethiopian dress) and the Navajo Nation (Urban Outfitters), among others. The difference now is that social media has given a voice to these marginalized designers or countries who would not otherwise be heard.

I would be interested in your thoughts on this issue.

Also, if you the designer purchases print fabrics from a “legitimate print dealer” on faraway shores during your travels and returned home to the USA, do you own the designs on that fabric?

Listen to Nanette Lepore’s explanation for the misappropriation here.