Cowichan tribes take on Ralph Lauren for selling knockoff sweaters
A B.C. First Nation tribe is taking on a major international fashion designer for selling knockoffs of their traditional sweater designs.
Ralph Lauren is selling sweaters online with the name “Buffalo Full-Zip Cowichan” and the Vancouver Island tribe says the clothing, on sale for $200, is counterfeit.
Dora Wilson has been a Cowichan knitter for over 50 years after learning the skill from her mother. She says the skill is passed down from generation to generation and Ralph Lauren is essentially selling knock-offs.
“They're marketing under false pretenses you might say, because they aren’t genuine,” Wilson said.
Charles Seymour, chief of the Cowichan tribes, said they will ask the American fashion company to remove the name from their products.
“It is illegal and it’s appropriation and intellectual property violation,” he said. “We’re going to take steps to communicate with Ralph Lauren and ensure that our product and name is protected.”
This conflict is nothing new - large retail chains have used the Cowichan name for profit before.
The Hudson’s Bay Company sold replicas of the hand-knit sweater during the 2010 Winter Olympics. After the band protested, a licensing agreement was made. Last week Nordstrom’s dropped the name “Cowichan” from their sweater line and issued an apology.
“I don’t like that because the sweaters, they come right from us,” said Emily Sawyer-Smith of Hill’s Native Art in Duncan. “They’re all family-owned designs and I feel like they copy our patterns and they shouldn’t.
The tribe urges people to purchase genuine Cowichan products made by the Cowichan people themselves.
With files from CTV Vancouver Island