U.K. fashion label apologizes for copied Inuit design

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KTZ has apologized for using a sacred Inuit design in their high-end sweater. (Kieran Oudshoorn/KTZ website & from book Northern Voices/CBC)
KTZ has apologized for using a sacred Inuit design in their high-end sweater. (Kieran Oudshoorn/KTZ website & from book Northern Voices/CBC)
The U.K.-based fashion label KTZ has apologized to a Canadian Inuit woman for using without permission a sacred Inuit design produced by the woman’s great-grandfather in the early 1920s.

KTZ’s fall 2015 men’s collection includes a number of garments based on traditional Inuit designs and a sweater that appears to be an almost exact replica of a sacred parka created to protect her great-grandfather, the great shaman Awa, said Salome Awa in a phone interview from Iqaluit, Nunavut.

A sacred garment

Awa said she stumbled upon the offending replica of her great-grandfather’s parka while browsing a Facebook posting about KTZ’s fall-winter fashion collection.

“There was a very specific shaman garment that my great-grandfather used for his protection,” said Awa who works as a producer at CBC North. “You cannot wear a sacred garment at any point when you didn’t vision it, when you didn’t want to use it for protection.”

 Salome Awa. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
Salome Awa. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Awa said she immediately contacted the fashion label demanding that they pull the offending sweater and apologize. On Friday morning she received an email from the company.

“KTZ is a very small UK based company – with a team counting less than 15 people employed across the globe and with ethnic backgrounds ranging from Macedonian, Greek, Portuguese, Polish, German, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Nigerian, Chinese and Indonesian,” the letter said. “Our work is never intended to offend any community or religion. We sincerely apologise to you and anyone who felt offended by our work as it certainly wasn’t our intention.”

Item removed

The fashion label has also removed the item from sale online and will remove the item in question from its stores, the letter said.

But Awa says she would like to also get a financial compensation from the company.

“They have to pay back the money gained from the design they stole,” Awa said.

The garment was created in early 1920s after her great-grandfather had a vision that someone was going to drown him and push him into the ocean, Awa said.

“He wanted to protect himself at any time, either sleeping or hunting,” Awa said. “This garment will stop that person with his shaman powers from drowning him.”

“They have to pay back the money gained from the design they stole,” said Salome Awa. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)
“They have to pay back the money gained from the design they stole,” said Salome Awa. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)
KTZ’s history with indigenous designs

Famous Danish Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen took a photo of her great-grandfather in the sacred parka in early 1920s, said Awa. The photo as well as the shaman’s story, is featured in the book Northern Voices: Inuit Writing in English. A replica of the garment was also displayed in the 2006 film The Journals of Knud Rasmussen.

It’s not the first time KTZ, which makes high-end clothing for men and women, has been accused of appropriating indigenous designs. Last year, U.S.-based northern Cheyenne/Crow designer Bethany Yellowtail accused KTZ of using her designs without permission.

On its website, the company brands itself as creating clothing “known for its raw energy and contemporary urban edge, but also for embracing ethnographic references and multiculturalism.”

Related stories from around the North:

Finland:  Ralph Lauren collection shot in Arctic Finland, Yle News

United States:  New stores celebrate Alaska’s eclectic fashion sense, Alaska Dispatch News

 

 

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Levon Sevunts

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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