On the heels of a report this weekend that London-based brand, KTZ had stolen a traditional Inuit print and showed it in its Fall/Winter 2015 collection, Canadian retailers are pulling the offending item from stores and KTZ’s creative director Marjan Pejoski has issued an timely apology … albeit an arguably insufficient one, which can be found in its entirety below.
KTZ’s letter is interesting for a few reasons. Primarily, I’m not sure how KTZ is achieving its alleged mission of “paying homage to indigenous cultures and tribes around the world” and “encourag[ing] appreciation for traditions” by taking traditional and sacred designs, recreating them and putting them on the runway and then on shelves for the purpose of making a profit. And I hardly think I am alone in this sentiment. When Isabel Marant did the same thing recently, no one was terribly struck by how wonderful a tribute that was. In fact, most called attention to the Paris-based brand’s blatant misappropriation, and that seems to be what’s going on with KTZ, as well.
Secondly, noting that a collection is “inspired by” a certain tribe, such as the Inuit, by briefly including the tribe’s name in a collection’s show notes (as KTZ did) arguably does not make it alright to copy their designs in such a line-for-line manner. If Salome Awa, a member of the Inuit tribe, who has spoken out about the alleged copying, is feeling particularly slighted, she could look into copyright law (depending on the date of creation, etc.) and potentially seek redress that way. It is worth noting that in copyright infringement cases, citing your source is often an insufficient method in escaping liability. Reproducing an original design without the copyright holder’s authorization is copyright infringement (unless an affirmative defense applies) regardless of whether the copying party mentions the creator or not. Moreover, there is a difference between inspiration and imitation. It seems KTZ would have an enormously difficult time showing the case at hand is anything but the latter.
Moving on … to my last point. While seemingly a grand gesture, I am not sure that it is much more than a symbolic effort (at best) for KTZ to remove the offending garment from its stores and website. Considering that the sweater at issue is from the brand’s Fall/Winter 2015 collection, it has been in stores since July. So, it has been on shelves for a full five months – almost the same amount of time it would be if it had not been pulled by KTZ. With Resort collections hitting stores this month, and the Spring/Summer 2016 collections becoming shoppable in January, the timing of KTZ pulling the garment largely mirrors when brand and retailers would be moving on in terms of inventory, anyway. So, this grand gesture is arguably not all that grand after all.
The question is, thus: What should KTZ do to make amends in a meaningful way - aside from refraining from blatantly ripping off the cultures of others?
Thank you so much for contacting us and for giving us a chance to express our point of view.
Over the last 20 years KTZ has always been inspired by and paid homage to indigenous cultures and tribes around the world.
It's part of KTZ's DNA to celebrate multiculturalism as a form of art and to encourage appreciation for traditions, ethnicities and religions' diversity.
At the time the piece in question was released (January 2015) the Inuit community was credited in our press release and online features, for example http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2015-menswear/ktz
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. 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.
We have already removed the item from sale online and will remove the item in question from our stores.