Mexico Is Coming For Brands Like Zara And Anthropologie Who Continue To Plagiarize Indigenous Designs

For years, Mexican officials have complained about international brands appropriating patterns and designs distinctive to Mexico’s Indigenous communities. Just a few months ago, the Oaxaca Artisans Institute went after Australian clothing brand Zimmermann for allegedly copying designs of the Mazatec community.

But now, the government is getting involved as it asks several international retailers to explain why as private businesses they should be allowed to privatize and profit off of collective, cultural property.

Mexico’s Ministry of Culture wants answers from some of the world’s largest fashion retailers.

Several international brands, including Zara, Anthropologie, and Patowl, are being accused of cultural appropriation by Mexico’s Ministry of Culture. According to a statement, the culture minister, Alejandra Frausto, sent letters to the three companies, asking each for a “public explanation on what basis it could privatize collective property.”

According to the government, Zara (owned by Inditex, the world’s largest clothing retailer)used a pattern distinctive to the Indigenous Mixteca community of San Juan Colorado in the southern state of Oaxaca. Anthropologie, owned by URBN, used a design developed by the Indigenous Mixe community of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, while Patowl copied a pattern from the Indigenous Zapoteco community in San Antonino Castillo Velasco, both in the state of Oaxaca.

The ministry added that the design “reflects ancestral symbols related to the environment, history and worldview of the community” and was similar to traditional huipil dresses which, it said, were part of the women’s identity and take at least a month to make.

However, according to Inditex, which replied in a statement sent to Reuters: “The design in question was in no way intentionally borrowed from or influenced by the artistry of the Mixtec people of Mexico.”

The issue of major brands profiting off of Indigenous designs has been a growing issue.

It was just in February that the Oaxaca Artisans Institute went after Australian clothing brand Zimmermann for allegedly copying designs of the Mazatec community. Zimmerman responded by pulling the offending item from store shelves. And in November 2020, French designer Isabel Marant offered her “most sincere apologies” after she was accused of copying a pattern created by the Purepecha community.

This isn’t even the first time that Zara has been accused of appropriating Indigenous Mexican designs. In 2018, social media users pointed out the similarity between a Zara jacket being sold for over $100, and the embroidery used by the women of Aguacatenango, Chiapas.

But this move by the government is different from previous attempts to protect Indigenous communities.

The letter, sent by the culture minister, goes on to say that “It is a principle of ethical consideration that, locally and globally, forces us to draw attention and discuss an urgent issue such as protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples who have historically been invisible.”

The government also included the entire text of the U.N. Charter to the International Labor Organization (ILO), which to some degree protects the authorship and artisanal work of Indigenous peoples. However, experts agree that this is a tricky legal field to enforce, due to the complexity involved in collective authorship and when it comes to claiming or establishing compensation for the damage.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at