In letters to the brands sent by Mexico's Ministry of Culture and made public on Friday, the ministry asks the companies for a “public explanation on what basis it could privatise collective property”.
In each of the letters, signed by Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, the ministry also detailed specific items that it claims have been created by each of the brands through cultural appropriation.
The letter sent to Zara accused the company of using a pattern created by the Mixtec culture, from the municipality of San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca, for a blue midi dress, with the ministry noting that the traditional huipil garment “takes at least one month of work to make” and “is woven on a backstrap loom and reflects ancestral symbols related to the environment, history and worldview of the community”.
The ministry also pinpointed specific clothing items in its letter to Anthropologie, such as the company’s Marka embroidered shorts, where “distinctive and characteristic elements of the culture and identity of the Mixe people of Santa María are identified”.
In the letter, the ministry explained that the designs found on the Anthropologie shorts, which retail for $68, are actually indigenious symbols and “the product of the creativity of this people who transmit them from generation to generation”.
In a separate letter to Patowl, the ministry alleged that various T-shirts were made using a copy of embroidery technique “of the Zapotec indigenous people of the community of San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca”.
According to the ministry, the name of the handmade technique, which translates to “make me if you can,” reflects the “complexity of the production process, which consists of several steps,” but has reportedly been found on several of Patowl’s “casual flowers” shirts.
In a press release, the ministry said it had sent the letters to the brands in “defense of the cultural heritage of indigenous communities to avoid plagiarism of their identity elements by national companies and transnationals” and said “benefits” should be “rewarded to the creative communities” that created the designs.
In a statement to Reuters, Zara’s parent company Inditex said: “The design in question was in no way intentionally borrowed from or influenced by the artistry of the Mixtec people of Mexico.”
The dress in question is also no longer available on Zara’s website, according to CNN.
The Independent has contacted Zara, Anthropologie and Patowl for comment.