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Following protests, Nike recalls "Puerto Rico" Air Force 1 Edition misappropriating Panamanian indigenous art

Credit: Arnulfo Franco/AP

Credit: Arnulfo Franco/AP

Nike has recalled its latest edition Air Force 1 which attempted to pay tribute to Puerto Rico, by using art from indigenous communities in Panamá. After coming under criticism for cultural misappropriation, Nike issued a statement on May 21, "We apologize for the inaccurate representation of the design origin for the Nike Air Force 1 'Puerto Rico' 2019. As a result, this product will no longer be available."

Comments across social media were swift including from famous Panamanian -American hip hop DJ Clark Kent and thousands signed several petitions that had been initiated. 

The mola design is the cultural patrimony of the Ngobe Bugle or Ngäbe-Buglé, an indigenous community in Panama which has been recognized by the Panamanian government via century old treaty. They primarily reside in autonomous territory regions and set their own laws.

Representatives from the Ngobe Bugle also denounced the use stating  The indigenous groups of panama consider the design an unacceptable disrespect of Panamanian culture and history. ["Los grupos indígenas panameños consideran el diseño un irrespeto inaceptable a la cultura y la historia panameña”]. 

Others including Belisario López, the traditional leader of the Guna Yala community stated, “We are not against our ‘mola’ being commercialized. What we oppose is it being done without consulting us first."

What is striking is that Puerto Rico has its own indigenous cultural heritage attributed to the Taino,  including famous historic and cultural symbols, such as the coquí. More baffling is that Nike had an internal example of a successful country tribute effort with its Fall 2018 De Lo Mio campaign celebrating the Dominican Republic.

These occurrences of culturally problematic or appropriative designs are not new in fashion, as Gucci and Nordstrom have come under recent criticism from the Sikh community for their use of "indy turbans" in the Fall 2018 collection or Gucci's use of blackface on a turtleneck last winter. One hopes that the recent introduction of a house of Fenty by Rihanna to the LVMH portfolio will ensure that a new standard of cultural awareness will be set across the fashion industry.