The news surfaces a week after Elise McMahon’s backlash from Filipinos for imitating their native basahan.
Early this month, Vogue published a story on New York furniture designer and upcycling advocate Elise McMahon. By repurposing old t-shirts, McMahon weaved textiles together to make chairs art pieces and made a loom that retails for $200.
Filipinos quickly called out the designer and her brand LikeMindedObjects, seemingly copying their traditional cleaning rags or basahan and selling them for extreme prices. Due to the backlash, McMahon shared a lengthy statement on her Instagram account and described the issue as a “complex conversation.”
“Throughout the last few days, I have learned about the t-shirt weaving style which results in Basahan, or what has been translated to me as “rags,” and is often seen in floor/bath mats in the Philippines and Southeast Asia and sold very inexpensively,” she shared.
“Since being made aware, I have been focused on educating myself how I didn’t know about this and what I can do now that I know.”
However, the case accused of gentrification or cultural displacement isn’t isolated.
Scrutiny from Hawaiians
Another New York brand is facing the same scrutiny. In their Spring 2022 Ready to Wear show, luxury fashion house Proenza Schouler releases accessories inspired by Hawaiian leis.
When the pieces arrived on their e-commerce site, the product description read pieces were “crafted by professional cultural practitioners in Maui, Hawaii.” It continued saying that the items were “recreated with modern materials, with a modern eye.”
Three iterations made of feathers and black ribbons were offered for $1490. Upon its online release, the Hawaiian community on social media had some things to say.
“What makes you feel entitled to profit off sacred Hawaiian culture like feather lei?” one Instagram user commented. According to Hawaiian and Polynesian culture, leis symbolize celebration, hospitality, and affection.
There are different types of leis, including the Haku, which are made of leaves and flowers usually worn on the head. For around the neck, there’s the Hili and Humupapa, which consists of plant materials like banana leaves strung together.
Taking it down
Another account wrote, “stealing Hawaiian culture to sell for $1500 is disgusting. Take it down.” The brand listened, and as of January 6, Proenza Schouler removed their leis from their site.
In response to the scrutiny, a representative told fashion news account @diet_prada that they worked closely with traditional Maui lei maker Pattie Hanna to ensure the tradition was “honored.” Proenza also added that all the craftspeople were compensated appropriately.
“Even with these efforts, we understand that we missed the mark. Our goal in selling these lei was not profit… ,” they said. “Once we saw the community’s response, we immediately acted and removed these items from our website.”
Banner photo from modaoperandi.com