On Tuesday, Australian womenswear brand Zimmermann announced on Twitter the release of its resort swim ‘21 collection. After revealing images of the line, allegations of cultural appropriation followed, with many users on the social media platform pointing out that the embroidered design on one of the dresses looked “plagiarised” from designs that artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico, have been crafting for hundreds of years. The brand has since apologised and pulled the dress from the website.
Called the Riders Panelled Tunic Dress, the style is an off-white mini with ruffled, short sleeves. It features embroidered bird and floral designs and pink-and-blue ribbon detailing. “This is stolen from ceremonial regalia of people of the Huautla de Jiménez Oaxaca region,” wrote Sue Boyde in response to Zimmermann’s tweet showcasing the dress. Another user, @salsaDchicatana, tweeted: “You are using an original design from the community of Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca. So basically, you are stealing their design and using an unauthorised reproduction of such design under your brand, which is clearly an unfair trade practice.” La Opinión de Poza Rica, a newspaper from Veracruz, Mexico, wrote, “The Zimmermann brand plagiarises a model of the ancestral Mazatec huipil and sells it for $850 (£650).” At the time of publishing, more than 60 people had responded to Zimmermann’s post, many of whom echoed the same sentiments.
Shortly after the image was released, The Oaxacan Institute of Handicrafts (El Instituto Oaxaqueño de las Artesanías) put out a statement. In it, the organisation asked Zimmermann to explain the “iconographic and technical elements” included in its resort swim ‘21 collection. The statement also asked for recognition of the artisan work featured. “[Zimmermann] markets a multicoloured tunic-style dress in its Resort 2021 collection [that features a] design and iconography [that] corresponds to the Mazatec populations of the Cañada region of our state, mainly Huautla de Jiménez and San Bartolomé Ayautla,” the statement, written in Spanish, stated.
According to the organisation, the garment in question is distinguishable by its embroidered cotton textiles, which Mazatec women have been making for centuries and “use with pride in their traditional festivities.” The statement continued, “The embroideries are made with the cross-stitch technique, [...] and represent different symbolic elements such as birds and flowers that reflect the nature of their communities. [They are] framed with ribbons of colours, which distinguish them from one town to another.”
While the tweets only mentioned the Riders Panelled Tunic Dress, the organisation’s statement also brought up Zimmermann’s printed “Lulu Drop Waist Mini Dress and Scoop Bikini”: “The ‘Lulu Drop Waist Mini Dress and Scoop Bikini’ [share a] similarity in design with the traditional huipil of Jalapa de Díaz from the Papaloapan region.”
Following Twitter’s response and the organisation’s statements, Zimmermann released a statement on Instagram. It reads, “Zimmermann acknowledges that the panelled tunic dress from our current swim collection was inspired by what we now understand to be a traditional garment from the Oaxaca region in Mexico. We apologise for the usage without appropriate credit to the cultural owners of this form of dress and for the offence this has caused.” The brand’s statement also noted that the Riders Panelled Tunic Dress has been permanently removed from all Zimmermann stores, as well as its online store. “We have taken steps to ensure this does not happen again in [the] future,” it concluded.
According to a source close to the brand, Zimmermann is currently attempting to contact The Oaxacan Institute of Handicrafts, as well as the state’s government, in order to investigate the claims regarding the Lulu Drop Waist Mini Dress and Scoop Bikini and discuss reparations.
Refinery29 reached out to The Oaxacan Institute of Handicrafts, but at the time of publishing, had not yet heard back.