So, so many fashion companies have gotten into hot water for Navajo panties, “Indian Chief” mall lingerie, Coachella headdresses, and more. At this point it happens nearly weekly, and the most surprising thing about it is that it keeps happening. After the fourth or fifth time, it seems like a company as big as Nike have someone around to say, “Guys, people aren’t going to like the way these leggings are printed with the cultural expressions of a specific group of people who were not consulted about this.”
According to the Huffington Post, Nike has gotten into trouble again with a new line of tattoo-print leggings and sports bras that duplicate the designs of Pe’a, the traditional male tattoo of Samoa.
In part, the problem was that the tattoo design is reserved for men only, but Nike has printed it on a line of women’s apparel. And there’s a way to be inspired by designs without just stealing them, but it doesn’t sound like Nike did that in this case.
“Before you launch into something like this, there’s generally a consultation with those whose pattern have ownership…” New Zealand parliament member Su’a William Sio said. “I don’t think Nike has taken the time to do that.”
When contacted about the issue, Nike said that the tights were never intended to be sold in New Zealand, which does not really ameliorate the situation.
“The Nike Tattoo Tech collection was inspired by tattoo graphics,” the company said in a statement. “We apologize to anyone who views this design as insensitive to any specific culture. No offense was intended.”
When the designs were first announced the company said they were specifically taken from tattoo designs from Fiji, Samoa, and New Zealand.
A Change.org petition at the beginning of the month pointed out that the Nike Tattoo Tech tights could actually be in violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that people have the right to control and protect their traditional cultural expressions, as the Pe’a definitely counts as a traditional cultural expression.
Nike has since pulled the tights from its website.
At this point it’s just bewildering that companies aren’t taking more of an effort to prevent this sort of backlash. Maybe it’s just faster and cheaper for a company like Nike to pull a product that offends than to do a bit of research at the beginning of the design process to make sure it wouldn’t rub anyone the wrong way.