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Sézane employees filming in Oaxaca The Sézane team in the market at Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxacam filming an elderly indigenous Zapotec woman. Twitter

French clothing line under fire for ‘mocking’ Zapotec woman in Oaxaca

Mexican officials said the employees' behavior undermined indigenous people and communities

A French fashion label attacked the dignity of indigenous communities by filming a Zapotec woman dancing in its new clothing line, the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) charged.

Sézane, a clothing line founded in Paris in 2013, dressed women in their clothes in the market at Teotitlán del Valle, in the Central Valleys region of Oaxaca, on January 8. 

In a video uploaded to social media, a publicity team can be seen photographing an elderly indigenous woman against a professional backdrop. One representative encourages the woman to stand up and sway from side to side to a recording of the 1968 Mary Hopkin song, Those Were the Days playing in the background. Several spectators watch the moment, and laughter can be heard in the background of the video.

INPI said in a statement that the behavior of the Sézane representatives “undermines the dignity of [indigenous] peoples and communities and reinforces racist stereotypes about indigenous culture and traditions,” before adding that legal action was being considered. “There will be dialogue with the authorities of Teotitlán and the aggrieved people to undertake a legal action, in accordance with the law.” 

The agency demanded companies “cease exploiting indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples and communities as cultural capital since they are not objects of clothing but citizens under public law who possess a vast cultural heritage and traditional knowledge.”

The video that circulated on social media of the incident.

 

It cited Article 2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: “Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.”

A new piece of legislation in Mexico, Article 21 of the Federal Law on the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Indigenous and Afro-Mexican Peoples and Communities, is set to become law pending presidential approval and aims to protect the “dignity and cultural integrity of indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples.” 

Sézane has stores in New York, Madrid, London and France and focuses on vintage styles. 

The fashion industry has consistently come under fire in Mexico for the alleged exploitation of indigenous culture and designs. The federal Culture Ministry announced in May, 2021 that it had sent letters to Anthropologie as well as Zara and Patowl for the “improper cultural appropriation” of designs from Oaxaca.

The federal government and other authorities have previously accused several other international brands of plagiarizing indigenous Mexican designs. Among them are ZimmermanIsabel MarantCarolina HerreraMango and Pippa Holt.

With reports from El Universal 

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