Fashion is notorious for copying designs and cultural misappropriation. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Fashion can be a vehicle to celebrate and sustain traditional knowledge, artisan crafts, and cultural expressions. The question is: how can we start to design this better future for fashion?
Well in today’s episode, Stella is back as a guest host and she is joined by Monica of the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative to explore this very question…
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Hello, and welcome back to this week’s episode of the Conscious Style Podcast. My name is Stella Hertantyo and I am the guest host on the podcast as well as a contributing writer at Conscious Life & Style and Conscious Fashion Collective.
In today’s episode, I am so excited to be joined by cultural intellectual property and fashion lawyer and cultural sustainability consultant Monica Boța-Moisin.
As we will chat more about later in the episode, Monica is also the founder of the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative, or CIPRI and Why We Craft, which are two really important organizations whose work is dedicated to centering the work and experiences of artisan communities while advocating for cultural sustainability in fashion.
One of the reasons I was so excited to chat to Monica about her work is because it feels as though almost every time I log onto Instagram, I am met with yet another example of cultural misappropriation or intellectual theft as Monica describes it, in the fashion industry.
In the context of fashion and textiles and using a legal framework, Monica defines cultural misappropriation as the harmful act of accessing and or using traditional knowledge or traditional cultural expressions from a people, community, tribe, or group that shares a common cultural identity, values, worldviews and history and using them in a different context for commercial purposes, without the authorization, acknowledgement, and compensation to the custodians of the traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.
To learn more about what traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions are, you can head over to CIPRI’s website which will be linked in the show notes.
But, as we will hear from Monica later in the episode, this misappropriation is linked to systems of power that have enabled elements from historically oppressed cultures and communities to be taken out of their context, altered, adjusted, and showcased without consent, credit or compensation.
And this is exactly what we see happening in the fashion industry. Because as we all know, all too well fashion is a copycat industry.
But this got me thinking, what if, instead of appropriating and misappropriating traditional cultural expressions, fashion designers could work collaboratively with artisan communities to create in a way that allows for a respectful, reciprocal exchange, rather than one that is unjustly extractive.
If done with care and respect, fashion really can be a medium that facilitates the continuity of these traditional textile practices, and allows for cultural sustainability.
When I was thinking about the theme of this podcast season, in relation to this conversation with Monica, I realized that part of radically slowing down fashion in a way that aligns with planetary boundaries, and does not exploit people across the fashion supply chain is returning to the idea that fashion holds so much more value than just clothing for clothing sake, and countless passing trends.
To slow fashion down, we have to remind ourselves of the value of fashion as a medium for expression, exchanging ideas, and even cultural sustainability. Reminding ourselves of this value allows us to reconnect with the potential of fashion beyond fleeting trends. And this is exactly what we’re going to be getting into today.
So without further ado, let’s get into today’s conversation. Monica is starting us off by sharing how she began her journey as an intellectual property lawyer and why she felt compelled to merge this with her interests in fashion.
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a lawyer. I was probably five the time I mentioned this to my family for the first time. And my biggest inspiration was my maternal grandmother.
She had been a lawyer, a famous one in our area, and known for her dedication, commitment, and the quality of her work and the fascination of her persona. She was a very culturally sensitive person. Empathic, and really, despite having a lot of cases, she never rejected anyone that couldn’t afford to pay, or she didn’t discriminate between anyone who needed legal support.
She died when I was two. But I did have vivid images of her in my mind throughout my childhood. And she had a fantastic sense of style.
I was always as I was growing up, going to her home, where all her clothes and the entire wardrobe was left almost intact, untouched, I started wearing her clothes as I was growing up and having all these at the time, we would call it vintage outfits, and I just created like a mixed style.
At the same time, my paternal grandmother had always had an appreciation and love for traditional textiles.
She grew up learning how to weave, how to embroider the traditional costume. The folk dress here in the area is quite elaborate, intricate, she created one herself for herself, which is what women would do, to kind of show their skills to show they’re ready for marriage.
So that kind of narrative has been very present in my life from my paternal grandmother. And every time I was visiting her, especially in summer, she would take me to the special room in the houses here. In our village, people had a special room for the most valuable textiles, these were the riches of a woman.
So she would take me to that room, and then we would, she would even teach me how to fold them properly. So that attention and detail like the time spent there, was for me, like a ceremony, like a sacred process.
I always wanted to be a lawyer and intellectual property. So the space of creativity, innovation was what attracted me. I graduated law school, I went to work as a lawyer, and I was trying to get expertise in this field.
And as I started to work more and more and be exposed to cases, and businesses, working with different businesses and stakeholders, I realized that I’m not really doing exactly what I want. I felt a lack of meaning in my work. I felt that I am a bit lost in a dream that I had since I was five. I’m now in my 20s and I don’t know who I am and why have I spent my whole life wanting to be a lawyer?
And I got to a point — you can call it a little quarter of a life crisis that was very serious for me at the time and basically questioning my entire adolescence and professional aspirations.
And I felt that I need to come back to my paternal grandmother’s house and take a deeper look at understanding why these two women — one that was no longer with us at the time and one that was still alive at the time… Why have they influenced me so much? And what is this maternal grandmother, paternal grandmother lineage? What am I learning? What’s my heritage?
It came to me a question — it was a question of heritage. Which is interesting, because when you think about it now, years after everything weaves back into a fantastic story.
At the time, I kind of took this metaphor of weaving and my destiny being interwoven with their destiny, and what I learned from them growing up or the images I had about them.
I wanted to explore the space of connectedness between fashion and textile, cultural expressions, this cultural fashion. So contemporary fashion and culture and fashion. And I don’t like the distinguishing between contemporary and cultural fashion because it’s all, it’s all textiles and clothing, and dress and different worldviews that we wear.
But I felt the need to explore this space. And slowly, I crafted my own journey, and crafted my way into specializing in what I call today, cultural intellectual property law. Which is basically the application of the principles of intellectual property law in a way for traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. So these creations of Indigenous people, ethnic groups, and local communities that are not protected under intellectual property law.
And many communities around the world don’t recognize the concept of intellectual property law, because this concept is fundamental in the idea of ownership and private property rights. Where such communities have a different worldview and different values that are more based around collective rights, custodianship, stewardship, a different relationship with nature, with raw materials, with products, and beings. So this is how I came to do what I do.
That’s a beautiful story. And I love that you took us all the way back to your grandmother’s and the way that they’ve also influenced your journey. And like you said, it feels a bit like a calling, because it is so linked to your heritage and your ancestors in many ways.
And I also love that you were able to merge these worlds because as you were saying, before the call if we’re going to be creating meaningful change, we need to be able to bridge these ideas and these different worlds in a way that they can complement and support each other.
And I think many times we don’t think of fashion when we think of law, but we need them together to be able to create systems that work in a more just way.
And I love that you use the word sacred. Because perhaps that’s what’s missing from so much about the dominant, like very profit-oriented fashion, we’re not thinking about it as more than just clothing.
And I’m sure in many of the places that you work that textiles are so much more than just clothing, like you’re saying.
And so this leads me on to the next question, because at the heart of your work is this focus on preserving cultural intellectual property, and really promoting cultural sustainability.
So before we dive into the rest of the conversation, could you just unpack these two concepts, cultural intellectual property, and cultural sustainability, and explain what they mean when it comes to the fashion industry?
Absolutely. Cultural intellectual property is a term that I’ve been using in my work to emphasize the need to design to craft a system that is tailor-made to these special types of expressions that we call traditional cultural expressions, the special type of knowledge that is called traditional knowledge.
And why are they special? It’s because as opposed to new creations of the mind, like the intellectual property law defines its objects of protection, these creations of the mind or transmitted from generation to generation in communities, and they are resisting the test of time because they are so valuable, relevant, and hold a certain meaning that is continuously valid.
So it doesn’t become obsolete on one hand. On the other hand, it functions like a red thread across generations. It connects us to the past that connects us to the future.
And most importantly, it at their core, there’s this principle that everything in the world is interconnected. That we are not exploiting, and we should not be exploiting the resources that Mother Earth is giving us. But we should sustain these, nurtured these resources because this is our life.
And this kind of complex idea and a bit metaphysical is what cultural intellectual property means to me and in the work that we do at the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative.
What we advocate for is the creation of a unique system, a system that is not limited in time in terms of years of protection, you’re protected for this amount of time, something that doesn’t restrict access to these expressions, but also doesn’t allow these expressions to be exploited in the detriment of the communities where they were born.
Something that encourages and catalyzing a systemic change in the way we, we give value to these different knowledge systems. There’s not just one way of doing things, there’s a plurality of worldviews and ways of doing things and the time of ethnocentrism and metaphor of the civilized world, that is an obsolete construction.
And we have to transition to a plurality of right ways to accept the worldviews of others, to embrace cultural relativism and to offer tools for these communities to be recognized as knowledge partners and not subordinated to the intellectual property holders.
So that’s cultural intellectual property in a lot of words.
And then Cultural Sustainability is a term that is in constant development, it’s exciting actually. Cultural has not been connected to sustainable development for a very long time. Up until the 60s, culture was actually perceived as working in the detriment of progress and economic progress.
But in the, in the last 50 years or so, you see at the level of the united nations, organizations, in different international legal instruments, policies, international policies, that culture is becoming the driver.
And it has been acknowledged that it is essential to understand cultural contexts for the world to kind of have a common mission and to work towards it. You have to embrace different worldviews, you have to safeguard and sustain your cultural diversity.
And with that, cultural sustainability has become or is becoming a central pillar in the sustainability narrative. It’s shifting now. And that’s been an idea that I was very fascinated with from the onset of this work.
It’s shifting now from that concept of the triple bottom line as this people, planet, profit, being about social, economical, and environmental sustainability. And basically it reverses the pyramid and it says cultural sustainability is the basis for any type of work in sustainable development.
And there’s a lot of different sociological, ethnographical perspectives on cultural sustainability in our work.
And applied to the fashion industry, we see cultural sustainability as nurturing and sustaining the practices of Indigenous people, ethnic groups, and local communities; the practices of creating, consuming, relating to textiles that are culturally specific or that are nurtured by different cultural groups; and which are bringing added value to how we should understand and create and consume fashion.
Amongst these, you would have weaving for example, weaving techniques, embroidery techniques, ways of processing natural raw materials to transform them into yarn, and then into textiles.
You would have different rituals and practices associated to certain types of textiles, because this brings this emotional connection to garment, something that we have a deficit of, as we are starting to crawl from the clutches of fast fashion.
You have sustainability by design as I call it. Patterns that are designed to minimize waste, when you put so much of yourself and your energy and your soul into producing a piece of textile, you will not cut it in ways that that are wasteful, you will create silhouettes that are functional, but also mindful of the local resources.
So you have… it’s really a complexity. It’s such rich and complex cultural sustainability in fashion, in fact it goes way beyond aesthetics, symbols, and patterns that are printed on garments.
Wow. I love that. And I think that emotional connection is one of the most important things that we need to shift because we have lost touch with the relationship that we have to textiles and our clothes in many ways in the system that has not valued that.
And so this return to cultural sustainability and the emphasis on cultural expressions is a really amazing lens to look at that. But the fashion industry has also been doing so much on the other side, so much wrong in terms of cultural misappropriation and cultural intellectual property theft, as you call it.
So, we have countless examples of this. I see them almost every day when I’m online, and the fashion industry is known for being a copycat industry.
So it feels as though these examples and how many of them there are, it can’t be random right?
There are definitely systemic causes that underlie this, this constant extraction of cultural value. And I was wondering if, from your perspective, you could just share a bit about what you feel these systemic causes are that enable this extraction?
Absolutely. So one of them is the very definition of the fashion system. The very definition of fashion that has been prevalent for decades and has been the backbone of the way the industry, the fashion industry has been built and designed.
Fashion has not been associated to classless societies like tribes, local communities, and to collectivities. It’s this theory that of the trickle-down effect, of looking up to the bourgeoisie and emulating styles. It’s been discussing the narrative that this is what fashion is.
There’s this discussion or this division between fashion and textiles, which is crazy, because you look at textiles as the backbone of the fashion industry and then how can you separate them so completely?
What are the systems of dress of people who have been, like imagine at the beginning of time, like before the fashion industries I would say, how colorful this planet was, how amazingly beautiful. How people were so creative, ingenious, and creating these identities.
They were communicating through their clothing. They were communicating important messages of status, maybe of class in their different social cultural divisions at a level of different communities.
So, there was so much communication going on and so intricate designs, because it was a competition for the most valuable. People were embroidering their gold and their silver in their clothes, this was the most treasure of families.
So, textiles have fantastic history, and to reduce all that history to fashion shows, and multiple collections a year that are meant to shock or play with the concept of aesthetics is not a constructive, inclusive and kind of human centered way of approaching things.
So, that is one of the causes.
Then secondly, obviously, based on that definition, everything from fashion education curriculums has also affected to a very large extent, this extractivism, and this misappropriation phenomenon.
Because so many fashion stakeholders, and I’m talking about designers and creatives, they don’t even conceive the need of asking for some sort of consent or can I use this? Can I change it? But when it comes to a creation of their own, they don’t like it when it’s copied, they don’t like it when someone has. So then it’s such a double standard.
And thirdly — it’s not just a fault of, and it’s not the fault, it’s not about blaming, it’s this has been, through the course of time, a system that has kind of had its own wheels and kept walking and walking, nobody stalling it. At an impactful level, of course, there was always voices and individuals who valued indigenous knowledge.
And but not at the level that we are today, because we now can connect across oceans and continents, and we can really take systemic action. It wasn’t possible in the past 100 years.
So, another thing is that the systems — let’s say the supporting systems — the law system, international trade and so on, have also encouraged the misappropriation phenomenon. You have a concept of the shared patrimony of mankind.
If I would have lived at the time, it’s sometimes I wish I would just to be present and hear how those discussions and decisions were made to say that all traditional cultural expressions of the word are part of the joint patrimony of mankind, and that kind of gives the possibility to enjoy them, but also to exploit them without any restrictions.
Obviously, that was beneficial for some nations and for some people and it was detrimental to others. And guess what, today, those nations for which it was detrimental are facing high levels of poverty and they are still, they are today the main custodians and the driving forces of sustaining cultural sustainability. Because they still have the dependency on their own skills and strengths and knowledge as their primary livelihoods source.
And so it’s a complex story. But we can address some of these issues, we have the tools now, and the capacity to address issues in critical points. We can go into educational institutions and talk about the effects of misappropriation, and define what that is.
Not scare people by saying cultural appropriation is bad, because cultural appropriation is such a big and wide topic. And it includes positive forms of assimilation or culturalization, syncretism. You cannot place everything in the same pot.
Right. And I think, on that note, you also, fashion can be a medium and an avenue for these cultural expressions to be continued and to be continued in a way that’s respectful and reciprocal, if it’s done in the right way.
And we would want designers, especially smaller designers, who work so closely with communities to embrace this instead of shying away from it, and learn how to do it properly.
And I think that’s why your work is so incredible, because it’s really about co-creation, and about co-creating solutions to address this intellectual theft, but also to create systems that nurture and sustain and protect this indigenous traditional knowledge.
So on that note, you are the founder of the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative, or CIPRI, and also Why We Craft and could you just tell us a bit more about the work that you do with CIPRI and Why We Craft and how and where these organizations work.
The Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative is a platform that has a vision and a mission to create a system that nurtures and sustains traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions and act as a mediator between fashion stakeholders and craft custodians.
The vision from the onset was not that fashion is the enemy, no. Fashion is the partner.
Fashion has the money, the resources, the logistics, to uplift and recognize and change a world paradigm. It’s fantastic what fashion can do and it’s been said by many colleagues in the space where I operate, fashion is a force for good and it is.
What is needed is to create these tools to build these bridges to, to a lot of mediation and negotiation work, negotiation of understandings, negotiation of meanings of textiles, really. So it’s a lot of theoretical but also practical work that needs to be done.
At CIPRI, we have four different action pillars and we are active on all of them. We do provide legal assistance, legal support, so legal services, we also provide cultural sustainability strategy development services.
We have two categories of stakeholders: fashion stakeholders who can afford to pay the services, but then we do the same work for craft stakeholders who don’t have the resources to pay the services. The theory and the strategy being that by doing this simultaneously, we will bring them to a point of common understanding slowly.
And this is why we are not a for-profit organization where we are not a non-for-profit organization either. So, we are a hybrid platform around which we tried to also gather a type of free membership for different stakeholders who want to engage with systemic change in fashion, and the legal system.
And we also do research. We do field work research. We go in the field, and we talk to artisans, we talk to communities, we talk to designers and universities, we talk to educators, we talk to everyone. We also talk to organizations of the United Nations, we try to be a connector at different levels in this ecosystem.
And to bring the focus to a set of principles and tools. And one of them is the three C’s rule: consent, credit and compensation that we created as our main instrument to spark change and develop different types of models and solutions.
Why We Craft was born a bit out of chance, some somehow it wasn’t planned, but at some point, with cultural intellectual property rights, and it’s such…it’s a topic that requires a lot of efforts to increase legal literacy in the ecosystem as well. So it’s not such an easy space to work in, and mission to pursue. And so there was a need to do something practical.
I said all the principles that we value, let’s put them into a practical project where people see firsthand what do we mean by consent, credit, compensation. What do we mean by models design on this? What do we mean by fashion collaborating with craft in an immersive and an inclusive way? And this is how Why We Craft was born.
And Why We Craft is based in Romania. It is a collective of women artisans from Romania at the moment, the collective that we hope to grow in the upcoming years, and maybe to go to other countries as well. Where they benefit from all the tools and resources that we created separately, as well. So it’s like a daughter project of CIPRI.
And we organize immersive learning experiences for designers, or creators, or journalists or whoever wants to engage in this kind of space of craft. We want to create impact projects, we want to create culturally sustainable fashion for people who can take this flag and run with it. We want to create impact projects.
So we don’t have a sales platform in that sense. What we’re looking for is financial support, and most importantly, networking support to create these impact campaigns.
Why do we craft should be a question on everyone’s mind, and it should be a campaign that is jointly led by a multitude of organizations in the fashion space, but as well as personalities, from actors, sports, people, musicians, who have a stage to make a statement about the value of indigenous and traditional knowledge systems, and appreciating this type of knowledge for fashion.
Right. And I love that you call it an ecosystem, because it really is it’s going to take everybody like you were saying, from sports people, to artists, to journalists, everybody has a different role to play. But at the end of the day, it’s one joint ecosystem and everybody’s skills are complementary in that way.
And this question of why we craft is such an important one, because I think that the fashion industry has so much to learn from craftspeople, who are the custodians and the transmitters of traditional garments, traditional designs, and traditional manufacturing techniques.
So I was wondering if you could share a bit more about how your work with these crafts people and art design communities has helped you understand what sustainable fashion means in practice.
There’s so much, I don’t even know where to start. But I think what is definitely clear and visible is that my mindset, my lifestyle, everything has — I have become a different person, since I have immersed myself in this work.
In building relationships with craft custodians and kind of fueling this fascination for knowledge systems and lifestyles that are different then from what I was experimenting in a capital city in Romania. I’ve discovered so much beauty and a love for life that I wanted, but I didn’t know was possible.
I’ve just discovered there’s an immense constant inspiration for me and an immense power that you that I don’t think money can ( I’ve never had so much money anyway, I don’t know) But I don’t think anything… It’s just love that kind of gives you that feeling.
And really the work I do and the interactions with the people that I meet in my work. And mostly it’s the work with the local communities that gives me that energy and energy that I need to be able to do work with the fashion stakeholders.
But what’s beautiful is that in the past years, since I started doing this, so in the past five, six years, I now start to have this energy with fashion stakeholders, because we have reached that point, we have reached that momentum.
I think that I always call them… the hard days are over. There were days that I was like, wondering and questioning my life deeply. Because so many people around me, were not really understanding what I’m doing, and why do I care for people in India? Or for what do I want? How will I be able to one day change anything you know?
And so there was a lot of low frequency energy that I had to fight against. But now it’s more high frequency energy. And it comes from collaborators in different walks of life and segments, and discussions with organizations in the UN that are limited in the actions that they can take, but that are so hopeful and do share this vision.
So you see that there is an army of guardians, we call, it’s beautiful, I want to. There’s a team of amazing women here in Romania that have been supporting me a lot with this vision for the Why We Craft impact campaigns and they came up with this concept of this is an army of fashion guardians, of cultural fashion guardians. And it’s such an empowering and I thought it was a bit silly, you know.
Like, at first I was like, How can I say how can I go there and say I’m leading an army or I’m part of an army of cultural fashion guardians? But the more I thought about it the more I felt it, I grew into it. And it’s such a strong term.
I think this is what we all are, everyone who puts their energy in understanding the subject and taking an action as small as to maybe change their purchase patterns to support communities, even that small — because that’s the probably the easiest thing you can do — is part of this global army of cultural fashion guardians. And I think in time we will see that all fashion is cultural fashion. There’s no that fashion and the other fashion. Because fashion is culture and culture is fashion.
Beautifully put and that term cultural fashion, an army of cultural fashion guardians is so powerful. I love it. I think I’m going to start using that as well because it really speaks to this work and in such a meaningful way.
And I want to discuss a bit more about that how and perhaps what it takes to make these things happen and what it takes to embed cultural sustainability in the fashion industry in a way that does sustain local, traditional and indigenous communities.
So I know that CIPRI and you’ve touched on this a bit earlier as you’re speaking, has developed various tools and projects that create these practical ways to promote and preserve cultural intellectual property rights.
And two that stood out for me while I was reading about your work, were definitely the three C’s rule, and the Mahila Print Project.
So those were just two that really, really spoke to me. But could you share a bit more about these initiatives? So that it makes it clearer and better to understand what cultural sustainability in the fashion industry entails in practice.
So the three C’s rule is designed to be a best practice framework for engaging with and nurturing and sustaining collaborations with knowledge partners from indigenous people, ethnic groups and local communities. And the structure of the rule came from the analysis of various international legal documents, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
And there’s been a complex process of research and analysis to come up with the three C’s. But the three C’s in essence are a process.
The first of the C’s is the consent. The free, prior and informed consent is itself a process in basically what it means is, when you want to create something that uses, makes use of traditional knowledge or traditional cultural expression, you have to engage in a discussion with the community, the source community.
And sometimes you won’t know who the source community is and sometimes you won’t be able to even figure out who you should be talking to. But the fact that you’re going through that process, and it’s a process and you take steps, that’s super important.
So in some cases, it’s simple, because those are the cases where the communities themselves stand up and say, you’ve appropriated art. So it’s clear that you have someone to talk to, you could have had someone to talk to you. In other cases, it’s not that simple.
Then acknowledgment. The acknowledgement of the source community. The acknowledgement and the recognition of their practices in the cultural context, the original cultural context, it’s important for us to know what the design means for the people who create it.
And then we can talk about borrowing this design to create a not another expression that is meant to be worn very differently or placed in a different part on the body and all these things.
So that acknowledgment is important because it educates people about cultural diversity, on other worldviews. So it’s a form of education. Fashion becomes a form of education, only by acknowledging this and a form of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage by documenting those original processes.
At the same time it becomes, we go to compensation and we see it becomes a force for economic self sustainability. When you see the knowledge and skills and aesthetics, you would never go to a graphic designer, take his work and print it and not pay them or not recognize them. You wouldn’t do that. Why would you do that with these communities just because the, let’s say the environment is different in which they create and the tools and materials are different.
And they, here it’s about kind of bringing this element of equity so kind of trying to build a stage so that Indigenous people, ethnic groups, and local communities can come closer to the position that has been reserved so far for designers and creatives, whose names are famous and known.
So the three C’s is in itself a process and it’s great to see that more and more, if at the beginning people were scared of them. And they were saying, oh, this is a checklist, and how do you get those three C’s in place? It’s been a process of understanding that it’s not a checklist, it’s a process. And you can design your business plans, your actions around this embedding the three C’s.
Developing long-term collaborations with partners that will be your sourcing partners for a long time. And if you have this kind of approach, and this immersiveness that is specific to it. So you won’t be able to just create a design by browsing on a few images online. You would have to go to the community, work with the community. And it takes money, and it takes time. But we need this, we need this.
And then the Mahila Print Project, for example, is another type of activity that we do. It’s this legal support for craft communities where we become creative with the law, so to say.
We said, every woman is a graphic designer, basically. All we need to do is to create these spaces of creativity, these workshops, creative workshops. In the creative workshops you’d have a designer come in and say, look, this is how I design my patterns.
Then they would go through a process of finding inspiration in nature, drawing things with their own hand, creating these new patterns, that would then be vectorized. And transferred into carved blocks to be able to do the block printing.
And here, they employed a designer to facilitate a creative workshop. And so it’s basically, why wouldn’t that be possible? Why does it have to be — so it’s was very possible. It was a model that created a change in the community, because they had never seen themselves before as IP holders. That was not something that they thought they can be.
And we would hope to be able to replicate these models in more and more and more projects and communities around the world. But for that you also need the fashion industry to want to work in these manners, and they still don’t prefer to work in the right manner.
Because it’s expensive, because it’s time consuming. And this is where we need to do more work. We need to do more convincing work and we need to do more activism or advocacy, more pressure from the consumers, from civil society, from international organizations in the end to change the practices.
And I think that’s such important work. And part of it is going to be also telling the stories and sharing the experiences of designers and brands that have done it well, and who are creating examples of how others can also follow suit. And collaborating, of course, with organizations like CIPRI, who have the tools and have the experience to really guide and embed cultural sustainability within that process.
And I think maybe it would be helpful and inspiring if you could share an example of a brand that is rethinking the fashion narrative and is seeing artisan communities as knowledge partners and promoting culture and ensuring the preservation of these generational skills.
Is there an example of a brand that you can share that’s doing this well? And then maybe if you have any tips for how a designer or brand could go about developing a strategy to embed cultural empathy into the business processes?
I think there’s a lot of good intentions out there. And I think there’s a lot of models that are tested by fashion entrepreneurs, especially small companies, and smaller projects that have created their models based entirely on this one partnership with a craft community or a local community.
Naming examples is quite difficult, but I’ll name two. One that is a member of the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative. And that is Nata Y Limón, which is an entity based in Germany that works with weavers in Guatemala. With a collective of women weavers in Guatemala, and with whom we went through a fantastic process together. They reached out wanting to address the relationship with the artisans contractually.
Because they realized, if we don’t bring it at a level of contract, we are not changing anything in their situation. Because we want to give some sort of certainty, we want to acknowledge a few things. And we feel that this would be kind of a different level of commitment for us as a brand as well.
So the three C’s were factored in and included in contracts with women weavers and cultural sustainability fund, development fund was also created for the community.
To sustain these kinds of models, you need to have a lot more sales, though. And this is a problem that interferes. But what’s been amazing with Nata Y Limón is that they were, they are continuously trying to not giving up and changing models.
There’s also Mila Jaipur. A project in Jaipur Mila that works in various forms and shapes with artisans from India, and they are, they have a fantastic aesthetic, they have a fantastic way of promoting them. They do these amazing events and they are known for the cultural sensitivity of their work and the ethics in their approach.
And there’s slowly companies that are… because I think there’s still a gap. Again, a lot of people want to do the right thing and they try to do it their own way. And obviously, there’s a lot of things you miss when you don’t have support and the right expertise. And we would be willing to support everyone but we also have limited resources.
And I think it’s about what is needed is to kind of find an avenue that the work that we do reaches more and more stakeholders, and that the work that we do is really supported at the level of international funding and an international policy of kind of these guiding principles and facilitating know-how on how to work with these principles and these tools.
But there’s a growing number of fashion stakeholders that are either interested or already committed to cultural sustainability and knowledge partnerships with Indigenous people, ethnic groups, and local communities and this is a good thing.
And if a brand is interested in starting that process, where would you suggest that they begin in terms of developing a cultural sustainability strategy?
What we do in our practice is that we look together with a brand. We map the supply chain and we look at different risks that a cultural risks that can be flagged. And we also look at the different practices in place and their effects.
And then we devise and we create steps and objectives and visions of where we want to get and discuss how we can get there with practical business decisions.
Because at the end of the day, the vision is beautiful, but then the implementation of it is also important. And this is something that we have to also ground in reality. It’s difficult to say what exactly because any every case is very particular.
And it’s important to take into account cultural context that the cultural context is so essential. So the same as with every application of the three C’s rule will possibly look different. And it’s very possible. Because this is not something that can have a template. And it will never have a template, because we’re talking about people and culture, and not a matter of compliance to indicators that are just numbers and.
Exactly, a great place to start would be to get in touch with CIPRI and to begin that journey as well. So we’ll definitely leave all of the details of that in the show notes. So that if there are any brand owners or brands, or even people that just curious to learn more listening, that they can find more of your work.
And I think I just have two more questions to ask. But the one thing that keeps coming up in my mind, as you’re speaking, is this idea of scale. And I think that this entire season of the podcast is really focusing on interest in this idea of degrowth and post growth, which has become quite a big topic in the fashion industry.
And I think one of the ideas that is promoting is the idea that small is beautiful, and that we need to break free from the clutches of fast fashion that are so exploitive, and so extractive and there isn’t really a sense of meaning behind the action, that’s all around economic growth and profit.
So I was wondering if you can speak to this idea of scale and your work, and how ideas of post growth put into the work that you do, if you have any thoughts on that?
Absolutely. In terms of cultural sustainability, what you can scale is the impact. And you scale impact by changing practices that are deeply detrimental to the cultural survival and wellbeing of these custodians of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. It’s about understanding that we need them and we need this knowledge and we need these skills.
If we talk about degrowth, if we want to talk about a healthy society that cares for the planet, and for the people, and really cares for well being, and not just financial riches. And if we actually want to talk about the future for humanity in the way we know humanity.
So, realistically, we have to… the idea of leaving no one behind is very important. And realistically, it’s not just technological advancements that will help us get there. We are all aware of that. But we still don’t translate that into actions fast enough.
So, first if you would just, if there was right now an exercise of mapping the traditionally sustainable, culturally sustainable practices in textiles and fashion that could help us to really create systemic change in fashion tomorrow, we would have a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of agents to help us create that change.
On that note, another thing I wanted to say, because it’s tied with the previous question on where to start. It’s cliche, but we have to start by informing ourselves and understanding what systemic change is.
This kind of transition cannot happen in the absence of systemic change. We cannot really patch solutions. No, it has to be a completely transformational system.
And we have created workshops at CIPRI that are happening every third Wednesday of the month, which are a great starting point for anyone and everyone who wants to delve into bits of the topics that we work with. They are affordable, they are a safe space for discussion, and they are extremely informative.
We also have a Cultural Sustainability Academy that has been added second edition this year, and where we train and prepare agents of change for cultural sustainability. And this is a program that we are extremely proud of. And it’s been a sort of heart filling program.
So there’s a lot of different educational tools around. But in this space, the beautiful thing is that educating yourself and immersing yourself in the subject does change your behavior and your actions.
It is something that we can empirically demonstrate based on our team. And probably this is what education does in general. But in this particular topic, every time we have our weekly meetings, there’s something new that came up, influenced by the work we do. And that is fantastic. It’s an exciting journey every day.
I think you’re so right. Educational resources and education in general is perhaps the most transformative tool that we have at our disposal because it enables us to shift our perspectives, create new thoughts and new possibilities and new actions at the end of the day.
And I think I want to end off this episode by asking you the question that we ask every guest that joins the podcast, and that is what does a better future for fashion look like to you?
To me, definitely a better future for fashion is built on knowledge partnerships with custodians of Indigenous knowledge systems.
To me a better future for fashion means that we dress in our values and we dress as a way of being integrated with the world that we want to live in.
Aaand that’s a wrap for this episode with Stella and Monica. I hope that you got as much out of this beautiful conversation as I did. If so, please share this episode with a friend or someone you think might like it or maybe you can share it out on social media.
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But if you can’t wait until then and want to keep learning about cultural sustainability, then I recommend tuning in to episode 14, The Importance of Cultural Sustainability in Fashion with Niha Elety.
Monica Boța-Moisin is a cultural intellectual property & fashion lawyer, cultural sustainability consultant and speaker.
She focuses extensively on creating a framework for the survival of traditional cultural expressions and building bridges between traditional craftsmanship and the fashion industry.
She coined the terms cultural intellectual property rights®, cultural trademark© and designed the first-ever workshop on cultural sustainability in fashion©.
Monica has extensive experience with Intellectual Property systems in various jurisdictions and offers in-depth legal consulting and support for IP registration and IP management strategy development for textile and fashion stakeholders, Indigenous Peoples and Local Community entrepreneurs.
Monica acts as cultural mediator between the fashion industry and artisans in promoting luxury craftsmanship as part of the contemporary fashion supply chain.