One of our most popular fabrics is Calavera Skulls, known to the fabric manufacturer as “Sugar Skulls”, and to Mexican people as an art style related to Day of the Dead celebrations.
It’s a cultural style that belongs to Mexican indigenous communities. The symbol became widespread in the early 1900s when it was used by the artist José Guadalupe Posada. He intended it as a mockery of Mexicans who denied their heritage and wore European clothing and whitening makeup.
Our use of this symbol is cultural appropriation. We bought it from a major fabric manufacturer and have no way of knowing who the original artist was, whether they were a member of the cultural group that originated the pattern, or if they were appropriately credited and paid.
We’ve had similar situations in the past. As born and raised West Coasters, we wanted to sell a print in the Salish art style that we know and love.
In that case, we found First Nations artists and manufacturers to supply the fabric, and paid them directly. The company is aware that we are making masks using their fabric, and gave their enthusiastic consent.
We got the original swatches of Calavera fabric from another mask-maker. The fabric was a runaway hit, and we had so many requests for it that we found a wholesale source and bought more.
I’m sorry to say, in this case, none of us considered the fact that we were profiting from the sale of indigenous art, until we were called on it by one of our employees. We are grateful to that employee for speaking up, because they were right.
Unfortunately, we have 30 meters of Calavera skull fabric en route to our shop, at a cost of about $600, which our company cannot afford to eat. However, we can’t in good conscience profit from the sale of products made from this fabric.
The solution that we’ve arrived at is to donate the net profits from the sale of these masks. We will donate to Border Angels (https://www.borderangels.org/
In the future, if we decide to sell masks with Calavera skulls, we will purchase directly from indigenous artists in Mexico, and ensure that we receive consent for the way we use it.
We will continue to examine ourselves and our actions and try to do better in the future.
Co-founders of The Kindness Factory