“I feel robbed,” Designer hits out at ‘copycats’

Fashion Designer, Cecilia Keil, has called out the practice of mass production and cultural appropriation of Samoa’s cultural art prints and designs by overseas commercial interests.

Recently the designer came across a duplicate design by a company in the U.S. of an original piece of active wear she designed in 2015.

“I feel robbed,” said Ms. Keil during an interview with the Sunday Samoan.

“Last week I posted something up on Facebook because I feel I’ve been robbed with leggings I designed in 2007. 

“They were recreated again in 2015 for the Pacific International Runway and then I saw it two weeks ago, someone shared a page, it’s selling in the U.S. and it’s been mass produced and selling at US$50 (T$128) and it’s a duplicate of the same design, they tweaked a few things but it’s the same thing.  I contacted that company and I said to them ‘do you even know the significance and the meaning of the print?’ Because that’s our art and it belongs to our people and you are mass producing it.”

The overseas company responded to Ms. Keil saying that their designers came up with the concept of designs by their own merit. 

Ms. Keil is a partner for the Pacific International Runway representing Samoa and last year at the event held in Australia, she raised the ethical complications around bigger clothing apparel companies profiting off the intellectual and cultural property of Samoa without crediting the source.

“I was asked in Australia when we went to take the Pacific International Runway and we were asked at a media conference about how I feel about the copyright issue,” she said. 

“Why I want to get out of Samoa is because I want my work to be exposed and also to claim the prints because it’s being massed produced by foreigners who don’t even know anything about it.”

“I feel that we have been robbed of this privilege and they have been doing it for years. They are mass producing in the thousands, not just for Samoans, but for people overseas because the Pacific is now trending and that’s why I think they are so pushing this because they know it’s out there and it’s making money.”

Ms. Keil still prints her material the old fashioned way of elei and every single piece is hand printed and unique. According to Ms. Keil, it is vital for Samoan designers to be more active in getting exposure for their work in order to reclaim their cultural and intellectual property from bigger commercial interests who have the resources and capital to reproduce and copy our designs at a much faster pace.

“I’ve been getting a lot of work from outside of Samoa, that’s why there is a need for us designers to get out of Samoa so that we get the exposure and also because I see that our prints are being mass produced by foreigners outside of Samoa and they are making money out of it and here we are printing locally and the foreigners are just coming in and taking copies and photos.’”

Ms. Keil is in Auckland, New Zealand, where she is taking part in the Inaugural Skycity Pasifika Fashion Parade next week. 

The designer has been asked to be a judge for an upcoming Papua New Guinea Fashion show as well as the Miss Papua New Guinea beauty pageant.   

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