Throughout the world, indigenous people and local communities have developed a wealth of traditional knowledge and cultural expressions, which they may rightly aim to protect and promote. Yet, so far only a few seem to have used the intellectual property system to do so, although their knowledge has sometimes been used by companies which often omit to ask for authorisation and far from share the benefits of such use with the people and communities they draw their inspiration from.
This seems to be the case with Tory Burch’s new Resort 2018 collection. The collection appears to have caught the world’s attention due to the striking resemblance of some of the pieces with Romanian artisanal clothing. Particularly, one of the items from the collection, which the designer claims to honour African culture, comes close to a replica of the Romanian suman, a Romanian folk coat, which is publically exposed at the New York Metropolitan museum.
Following the powerful and sustained social media campaign launched by La Blouse Roumaine, including the #GiveCredit movement, the company Tory Burch has issued an official response crediting the Romanian traditional artisanship for inspiration and also trying to raise awareness amongst its own staff. However, the company far from apologised for launching the collection before acknowledging the Romanian culture as source of inspiration. Meanwhile, the representatives of La Blouse Roumaine have adopted a productive attitude towards this matter, commenting on the group’s Facebook page: “.. as a social movement committed to promoting and protecting cultural fashion we can only see this as an opportunity to move forward. We continue celebrating the values and heritage we stand for along with those people who, like us, see the magic and beauty in traditional patterns and designs, value the work of artisans and artists, salvage and appreciate precious garments that have nearly been forgotten, and most of all, cherish the uniqueness and beauty of each individual culture. […] Together we can change the fashion world, stepping away from the disposable and towards the perennial.”
The World Intellectual Property Organization seems to have also taken a stand on this subject, by publishing on June 16th, 2017, the first practical guide addressed to indigenous people and local communities, which describes how traditional culture may be protected and promoted from an intellectual property law perspective. This guide may help traditional artisans and communities better understand the legal tools available to them and make informed decisions about when and how to use these tools to protect and promote their work. The intellectual property system includes mechanisms to give, modify or revoke copyrights, which may contribute to the empowerment of indigenous people and local communities and inspire them to continue innovating and creating while making strategic use of laws and regulations.
French designer Philippe Guilet’s “Prejudice” collection, which is inspired from the Romanian folk tradition and created by Romanian artisans, is an example of bona fide in the artisan-inspired fashion world which may serve as point of reflection to any designer or brand. The collection was presented at the French Embassy in Bucharest, on November 11th, 2011.
In the context of Tory Burch’s 2018 Resort collection, the designer has the opportunity to acknowledge the complete story behind the Romanian-inspired pieces on June 24th, which is the Romanian Blouse International Day and perhaps wear one of the original Romanian pieces herself as a real chance to redeem the brand and their ethics.
How may the #GIVECREDIT movement encourage artists to acknowledge their source of inspiration?