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Flattery or Theft?

Preservation is a priority among many indigenous cultures, but I would like to discuss a new type of preservation that stems from appropriation. Designers and clothing companies have been stealing tribal patchwork, applique, and designs to market and sell as their own. This latest trend in the fashion industry is hurting tribal arts, artists, and more importantly the identity of the tribal people. Buying authentic works and supporting the original artist is an essential practice.

It is not uncommon for people to share and appropriate designs from one another in all forms of art and crafts. Among the Seminoles this kind of mimicry of designs says, ‘you liked my work so much you figured out how I did it.’ It is flattering coming from another person who has practiced hard to become good at this skill. Especially as Seminole seamstresses generally do not write down or draw their patterns – it is all memory.

However, all artisans fight the issue of outright theft of their designs. In the larger scope, artists and designers on Etsy see eerily similar design mass-marketed and sold in stores. In each situation, the person who did all the hard work to create the design loses money due to the power of a big name and cheaply produced versions of their work. For the Seminoles, the patchwork design is diluted and becomes less meaningful when others wear or create it without an understanding of it’s history.

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