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Protecting Yucatecan embroidery from plagiarism

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At left, musician Susana Harp with the women of Tlahuitoltepec. At right, the blouse from Marant’s collection. Photo: Courtesy Susana Harp
At left, musician Susana Harp with the women of Tlahuitoltepec. At right, the blouse from Marant’s collection. Photo: Courtesy Susana Harp

Otomi prints appears on throw pillows at Pottery Barn. A French designer lifts the look created by the indigenous Mixe community in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca.

And in Yucatán, there is a move afoot to protect traditional embroidery from copycats.

Public policy needs to protect the work of local craftsmen from being devalued, said Yucatecan anthropologist Silvia Terán y Contreras, who specializes in the field of embroidery.

Questioned about the controversy sparked by the French designer Isabel Marant, who fashioned some expensive blouses in the style of Oaxaca, Terán said that currently Yucatecan creations are not protected in any way.

She explained to the Sipse news agency that local techniques are not unique to the Yucatán region, and is not technically patentable. But it could be branded. Although an effort to brand local embroidery styles failed years ago, it is worth reviving these efforts as the number of working embroiderers has declined, she said.

Traditional embroidery for sale in Valladolid. Photo: Getty
Traditional embroidery for sale in Valladolid. Photo: Getty

One state already doing this is Michoacan, where the federal government has authorized thirteen “collective trademarks.” The devil figures of Ocumicho, the ceramic pineapples of San José de Gracia and the ceramic pots of Zipiajo are among the trademarked items. This protects work done by about 2,000 artisans in the state.

Even more people in Yucatán — an astonishing 80,000 — are employed creating the embroidery of Yucatán. Their goods are shipped across the country and exported abroad. Twenty years ago, their ranks were as high as 100,000, according to Sipse.

Meanwhile, Eduardo Contreras and Maricarmen Trujillo, of Universidad Modelo, are leading “Prefiero vestir México,” a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting garments made by craftsmen using traditional techniques. The styles are hip and trendy, but are created by local artisans and reflect the aesthetic of the peninsula.

So far, nearly 4,000 people are following their Facebook page.

This initiative promotes artisanal clothes and combines fun facts, tips, retail sites and new trends. 


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