If you haven’t heard about Maxhosa where have you been living for the last couple of years? Worn by the likes of swizz beats, Alicia Keys and cosigned by the Queen B herself – Beyonce, Maxhosa is a popular luxury South African fashion brand founded in 2012 by Laduma Ngxokolo as part of his final project at Nelson Mandela University. When he began his brand Ngxokolo’s initial vision was to create a modern Xhosa-inspired knitwear collection that would be suitable for amakrwala (Xhosa male graduate-initiates), who are prescribed by tradition to dress in new dignified formal clothing for six months after their manhood initiation. 5 years later it has become so much more than that and we can see this through it’s global success – for me Maxhosa is one of the major African brands leading the way to global recognition and appreciation for African fashion and culture.

Earlier this week it emerged that Zara – one of the biggest brands in the entire world had basically copied and pasted Laduma’s signature diamond shaped design for their new sock range – the socks had a striking resemblence to the Mxhosa Khanyisa Collection which launched March 2014 at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg. However it has been reported that the range has been removed from it’s stores as well as the company’s online platform but despite this Laduma is taking legal action over the design and I don’t blame him. Tyatya says MaXhosa by Laduma has a copyright on the design, which it claims has been infringed by Zara.

The South African brand wrote in a press release on their official website:

“Earlier this month (April 2018), we were alerted by our patrons, that ZARA ( INDUSTRIA DE DISEÑO TEXTILE, S.A. (INDITEX S.A. Pty Ltd) company has copied one of our signature patterns. These patterns were appropriated & reproduced in as part of their sock range which they shared as new in their best-sellers on their online store.”

As a result, the brand is taking legal action:

“We consulted with Shane Moore and Muhammad Patel from Moore Attorneys, one of Africa’s leading IP law firms who are handling the matter on our behalf. They have since sent a letter to the parent company alerting them of the copyright infringement and our demands. We have taken such steps so as to avoid our works being appropriated and adapted without our consent or permission. Copyright infringement is a matter that we take seriously and fully aware of our intellectual property rights. We would like to thank the clients who have silently sent us proof of such infringements as they allowed us means to act. The debate as to whether we shall win the case or not remains, we stand by our decision to fight such a case. Thus, we have sent our letter of demand and we await their reply.”

 

So this whole situation brings to light the argument of was this cultural appropriation or was it appreciation? In my opinion, Zara could have dealt with this issue in so many other ways, for example they could have approached Laduma and collaborated with him on the range, they could have even asked for his permission as well as state where they got the inspiration for the range or they could have just simply used a different design and colour scheme but because they didn’t do any of this, it is appropriation. I am not one to throw around the term cultural appropriation because I believe that everyone is free to explore different cultures and express their ideas as they please but in this case its undeniable – Zara stole another designers work, it’s as simple as that.

Since news broke out Laduma has also cut ties with Zara and stopped purchasing from the retailer, but he says it’s up to customers to decide what they want to do about the situation.

“I think that it is the peoples’ choice as to what they would want to do, as a form of support. I do think my ultimate form of support is that our loyal clients continue to support and share what we stand for to others. It is up to them whether they continue to buy from Zara or not. But as a normal consumer, not as Maxhosa and not as Laduma, I have taken the choice to discontinue putting my money up to support them and raising their revenue.”

Its so sad to know that we live in a society where African Designers are not given enough credit or recognition for their work and it is becoming so incredibly frustrating to see designers consistently working hard and pushing boundaries only for their work to be copied and stolen by much bigger global brands. But I can guarantee you that very soon Africa is going to take over the world and I ensure you I will have a front row seat in the changing of history in this thing we call the fashion industry.