Another Case of African Appropriation: Tongoro vs. Saint Laurent
DAKAR, Senegal - Claims of cultural appropriation, especially as pertains to fashion from the African diaspora, are a frequent outcry in today's hyper-digital landscape. The end of Paris Fashion Week brought yet another accusation; this time, the primary culprit in Saint Laurent. The Paris-based luxury brand was accused of snatching a handbag design in the shape of a baguette from Senegalese brand Tongoro in its latest Autumn / Winter 2017 presentation.
Led by creative director Sarah Diouf, the affordable fashion label has been promoting its handmade MBURU bag since May 2016. Saint Laurent may go on to produce said bag in sizable quantities and generate considerable value without giving credence to the originator. We've seen European luxury houses strike deals with African creatives before (albeit quite rare), such as Dior's Maria Grazia Chiuri with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the $710 "We Should All Be Feminists" tee. In fact, a percentage of the Insta-famous shirt's proceeds support another black woman (Rihanna) and her non-profit organization (Clara Lionel Foundation). It is entirely possible to structure intellectual property arrangements whereby both parties can benefit. However, what options exist for smaller brands like Tongoro with presumably less legal resources, operating within rather vague IP protections in the realm of fashion design?
In Diouf's words to OkayAfrica, she stated "the MBURU bag is our signature piece as it represents an essential part of our culture and embodies the very essence of our dignity: the ability to wake, get out and fight for yourself." Poignant words for what will no doubt be needed to tackle this claim of appropriation both legally and economically.