Vogue is drawing flak from Filipino netizens for featuring retaso projects by American artists Franny Capone and Elise McMahon.
On February 3, the prestigious outlet published an article on the pair's upcycling enterprise. According to the feature, McMahon, who is a furniture designer, "started to wonder what she could do to repurpose" bales of unwanted t-shirts that stockpile in America. In November 2020, she contacted Capone, a textile designer, and the two went into a self-imposed residency to come up with a response to this overabundance.
The result was a colorful loom-woven textile that the artists used to make furniture covers, wall ornaments, and sweaters. The ouput was quickly panned by Filipinos for looking exactly like the local basahan, which is a fixture in countless Philippine households.
Vogue Runway's Instagram post garnered over a thousand comments, many from Filipinos calling out the site and the artists for not giving credit to cultures that have been employing this weaving technique for decades, with some tagging the project as as an act of cultural appropriation. Netizens from South Africa and Indonesia also spoke up, noting that it is a common method in their countries as well.
Other Filipino commenters pointed to the local brand Rags2Riches, founded in 2007 by Therese Clarence Fernandez-Ruiz, which specializes in artisanal woven fashion items.
The artists intially claimed to have developed the technique. "In love with this sweater made by @likemindedobjects (McMahon) with a weaving method we developed together upcycling t-shirt waste," wrote Capone on Instagram. However, after receiving the feedback from Filipinos, McMahon addressed the issue in the comments section of the original Vogue Runway Instagram post.
"This is a really complex conversation, through these comments last night and today I learned about this amazing weaving style Basahan using t-shirt material that has long been happening in the Philippines and have been rushing to educate myself since," McMahon wrote. "I really respect this practice, and all people who are being resourceful [with] craft and waste globally."
She also explained that her method is much simpler to learn than the intricate basahan method.
"I can see how this aesthetic cross over, which results from using random t-shirts, feels super close to the basahan style and partly caused this upset. I am open and hoping to have full dialogue if anyone would like, I'm aware of my privileges and all the potential for resulting blind spots.
"We are a super small studio and felt lucky to have Vogue's platform to help spread the word but agree that too little press celebrates traditional practices that really are what we all need to learn from to attempt any semblance of 'sustainability'. I wish I had known about this before and am glad to know about it now! With respect, Elise."
However, a netizen was dissatisfied with the response: "Your apology will sound more sincere if you change your whole narrative. Credit the culture, work with the original innovators and sell their products. THAT DESERVES MORE ATTENTION," they wrote.
To encourage others to participate in the upcycling practice, Capone and McMahon are currently selling a loom priced at $200, or approximately P10,254. Each loom comes with a how-to booklet and a QR code to a tutorial video on the weaving process.
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