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Exploring Cultural Sustainability in Textile Design: A Talk at TAEC Laos

The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, recently hosted an engaging talk "Commercial Textiles and Culture: A Legal Lens on Print Design", by Nicole Crouch, representing the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative® (CIPRI). Nicole is a seasoned commercial textile print designer, a university lecturer on design and sustainability at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and serves as the Creative Industries and Academic Research Lead at CIPRI.


Since its inception in 2006, TAEC has been a cornerstone for cultural preservation and education in Laos, and regularly hosts free public talks to foster community engagement and access to information in Luang Prabang, Laos. Nicole’s talk was part of this series and was particularly special as it marked the first in-person visit of a CIPRI Core Team member to TAEC, after many years of collaboration.


Nicole’s talk provided an insightful look into the fashion industry's complex history and practices. She spoke about the challenges that individual designers face within this system, often leading to cultural misappropriation*. From an external perspective, cultural misappropriation can seem obvious and intentional, however, most designers are unaware they are culturally misappropriating as drawing inspiration from cultural sources is so embedded in the fashion system. Regardless, it is not intent, or lack thereof, that determines cultural misappropriation, it is the impact on the community from which the designs were inspired by. Designers, working within systems they did not create, can find themselves defensive when these issues are pointed out.


The presentation broke down the practice of textile print design, particularly the creation of digital repeating artwork printed onto clothes, where cultural misappropriation often occurs. Nicole emphasized the importance of viewing textile print design through the lens of Cultural Intellectual Property Rights® (CIPR) and adopting a rights-based approach. This perspective offers opportunities for the industry to transition towards culturally sustainable practices.


One key highlight of the talk was Nicole’s discussion on the practical realities faced by designers, particularly in Australia. She explained that designers often give up the moral rights to their print designs, losing control over how their work is used once it leaves the studio. Clients sometimes request near replicas of traditional designs, and the fragmented nature of the design production and marketing processes contributes to a lack of transparency. These reflections underscored the importance of fostering dialogue and awareness around cultural sustainability in fashion.


Nicole’s journey from unknowingly engaging in cultural misappropriation to prioritizing cultural intellectual property rights in her work was particularly inspiring. Her PhD research seeks to support textile print designers in transforming cultural misappropriation into cultural sustainability. At CIPRI, she advocates for changes in the industry, emphasising the need for the 3Cs Rule: Consent, Credit, Compensationⓒ (Boța-Moisin, 2017).


The talk at TAEC educated those present on the importance of cultural sustainability in textile print design. Nicole Crouch’s insights and personal journey served as a powerful reminder of the responsibility designers have toward preserving cultural integrity. TAEC is so grateful to have a community of passionate and educated individuals, such as Nicole and the whole CIPRI Core Team, who keep bringing insightful and diverse talks to the Luang Prabang audience.


Text by: Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, CIPRI Member since 2019

Tara Gujadhur, Co-founder of TAEC and Nicole Crouch (CIPRI) at the Claiming Inspiration: Artisans, Culture, and Commercialisation Exhibition

Thong(Khoun) Soutthivilay and Tara Gujadhur, Co-founders of TAEC together with Nicole Crouch (CIPRI)




References:

*Boța-Moisin, M 2023, ‘Cultural Fashion a Matter of Human Rights, Cultural Misappropriation as a Human Rights Violation. What is Wrong with the Fashion and Legal Systems and How Can We Make It Right? The Oman Ethnic Group of Nanam Village in Laos Have an Answer’, in Sustainable Textiles; Production, Processing, Manufacturing & Chemistry - Sustainability Challenges in The Fashion Industry - Civilization Crisis, Decolonization, Cultural Legacy, and Transitions, edited by Migual Angel Gardetti and Rosa Patricia Larios-Francia, pp. 91-110. Springer Nature, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-99-0349-8


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