By NICKY CHAMP
As the adage goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, except when you’re a clothing chain exploiting a culture to make a profit.
Nike is the latest brand in a long line of fashion retailers who have been accused of cultural misappropriation. The sportswear giant has been forced to stop production of a line of leggings after an online petition called them out for being ‘exploitative’ to the Polynesian culture.
The black and white printed design on Nike’s Pro Tattoo Tech Tights is similar in design to a traditional Samoan Pe’a male tattoo. Nike said the leggings were not available in New Zealand and were never intended for their market.
“The Nike tattoo tech collection was inspired by tattoo graphics,” the company said in a statement. “We apologise to anyone who views this design as insensitive to any specific culture. No offense was intended… The collection was of a limited run and no additional items will be sold.”
New Zealand MP Su’a William Sio said: “Before you launch into something like this, there’s generally a consultation with those whose pattern who have ownership of this pattern. I don’t think Nike has taken the time to do that.”
New Zealand born actor, Jay Laga’aia has weighed in on the Change.org petition page.
“My culture is not for sale. It is free to those who ask and wish to learn the history behind the patterns,” Laga’aia said.
“To steal purely for profit is mean spirited and ignorant! Nike need to understand that ‘created something similar’ is still a breach and if the running shoe were on the other foot, I have no doubt that your lawyers would have been involved and corporate bullying would have taken effect! Stop assuming everything if free to those who have money to buy justice!”
Although not everyone has a problem with the leggings, with Facebook users backing up Nike saying that the designs were ‘inspired’ and the outrage is misplaced.
“We should all be willing to share our cultures in order to educate others so we have a greater understanding of each other,” one user said. Another wrote: “Oh that’s ridiculous. People are too sensitive. It’s a pair of leggings. How is that offensive. The culture has inspired the fashion.” [sic]
While one-off incidents can be easily dismissed, it’s not the first time fashion corporations have been accused of being culturally inappropriate – hell, it’s not even the first time this month. Swedish fashion chain, H&M came under fire in early August for selling this Native American-inspired headdress in their accessories department.
Kim Wheeler, an Ojibwa-Mohawk from Canada, said she first saw the $15 headdress while shopping with her daughter at a H&M store in Vancouver. “You wouldn’t find a colorful hijab or a colorful yarmulke on the shelves as some sort of fashion accessory to wear out to a nightclub or to a music festival,” Wheeler said.