Case Studies

Design wields an incredible power to transform society as an act of service. These projects are based on the concept of design as a practice of correspondence, or reciprocity.

Explore the intricacies of contemporary design through our case studies. Each study unveils unique dimensions of the complex interplay between design, culture, and ethics, contributing to a broader understanding of the opportunities and challenges that inhabit today’s design landscape.

The following case studies look into the particular condition of design today that may create controversies surrounding underlying socioeconomic pressures, intellectual property, or overall intent.

Some other case studies show and reflect on colonizing practices that CADA, as a platform, collects for reflection and further studies.

Isabel Marant and Mexico
Fashion designer Isabel Marant faces another plagiarism controversy as the Mixe community in Mexico accuses her of copying their traditional dress for her spring/summer 2015 collection. The indigenous group from Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, claims that Marant's Etoile collection contains elements specific to their Tlahuitoltepec blouse. This legal battle unfolded after the community demanded reparation damages, alleging plagiarism. In response, Marant acknowledged the design's origin but fought back, stating that she does not claim authorship and traced the design to the Mexican village. The conflict underscores the ongoing debate on cultural appropriation in the fashion industry.

BBC Accusations and Cultural Heritage Recognition:

Mexican Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto Guerrero accused Marant of using styles without acknowledgment, highlighting a cape with a unique pattern from the Purepecha community. Marant expressed sadness, citing a desire to promote craftsmanship. The Mixe community's outcry led to Oaxaca's congress declaring their traditional designs and language as Intangible Cultural Heritage, a symbolic move recognizing their uniqueness and origin. The conflict represents a broader issue of fashion's power dynamics and calls for respecting cultural heritage.

HUFFPOST: A Year-Long Struggle for Justice:

Marant's 2015 collection triggered a year-long struggle for justice as social media, protests, and Mixe community efforts culminated in Oaxaca's congress declaring their designs as cultural heritage. The community accused Marant of initially failing to acknowledge the design's origin, highlighting the power imbalance in the fashion industry. A French court ruled against Marant and another label, Antik Batik, stating they couldn't copyright the design. The saga reflects the complexities of cultural appropriation and the Mixe community's quest for recognition.

THE GUARDIAN 2021: Mexico's Stand Against Cultural Appropriation:

Beyond Marant, Mexico accused other brands of cultural appropriation, claiming they used indigenous patterns without benefiting the communities. The culture ministry demanded explanations and benefits for designs inspired by Oaxaca. These brands, accused of using Mixteca patterns, denied intentional borrowing. The issue reflects the broader challenge of profiting from indigenous designs without proper credit. Mexico's stance signals a growing intolerance for cultural appropriation, emphasizing the need for fair acknowledgment and compensation.

In the face of legal battles, cultural heritage declarations, and government accusations, the fashion industry grapples with the intricacies of cultural appropriation and the imperative to respect and recognize the origins of designs.

San Pablo Tijaltepec, Mexico

The Oaxacan community of San Pablo Tijaltepec is home to revered artisans like Natividad García Silva, along with her family and over 2 equally skillful local artisans, who, like Natividad, have established textile businesses specializing in traditional embroidery. These intricate designs, featuring sacred animals, like deer, not only reflect their cultural identity, but have also become a vital source of economic support for many families in the region.


Despite their visibility, the artisans face challenges such as plagiarism, inequitable compensation through middlemen, and the absence of legal safeguards for their cultural heritage. Some intermediaries exploit them, particularly the older artisans, whose proficiency in Spanish is limited, by paying them below the actual costs. Moreover, there is a lack of awareness and implementation of existing laws, which leaves the artisans vulnerable to misuses and appropriation of their cultural legacy.


Local legislation requires a community assembly to determine permits for external use of Tijaltepec textiles, with sanctions for misappropriation. However, there has been no assembly to address these issues. The head of the Institute for the Promotion and Protection of Crafts (IFPA) proposed that in case of plagiarism, the community must seek advice and, through conciliation, establish collaboration agreements. Unfortunately, the manner in which these cases are handled continues to be ambiguous.


The hardships endured by these artisans highlight the need for legal frameworks that effectively address cultural appropriation and protect indigenous communities. Despite federal laws, there are gaps in the implementation that leaves artisans defenseless. The significance lies in raising awareness about the exploitation of honest craftsmen, the importance of the community’s consent, and the need for legal systems that guarantee just and impartial treatment of artisans. 


In the absence of a well-defined legal framework, artisans like Natividad and her family persist in navigating the challenges of safeguarding their heritage, hindering their ability to focus on honing their craft and uplifting fellow artisans. The community’s call for awareness, legal guidance, and fair practices emphasizes the urgent need for effective implementation of existing laws and the development of additional mechanisms to protect indigenous artistry. The case advocates for a deeper dialogue on the broader issue of indigenous communities being vulnerable to exploitation, highlighting the significance of empowering these communities and advocating for their cultural and economic rights.

Sami Culture, Scandinavian Peninsula

In 2014, Tanja Poutiainen, a Finnish Alpine skier, sparked controversy after her final race by wearing an outfit resembling the Sámi gákti, the traditional clothing of the Sámi people, the indigenous peoples that inhabited the northern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. This imitation, marketed by a Finnish company as “Pohjolanasu” or costume of the North, drew criticism for its non-authenticity and offensive nature. The Sámi Association received requests, including one for children to wear traditional dress at a wedding, highlighting the exploitation of Sámi culture for commercial purposes.


The issue extends beyond individual cases, with Sámi culture consistently exploited in Lapland, especially in tourism. Negative stereotypes persist, depicting the Sámi as primitive or Santa's helpers. Such caricatures impact the Sámi economically and culturally. Unendorsed use of Sámi traditional dress in products and services, even as souvenirs, raises economic concerns as the Sámi do not benefit from such sales.

The Sámi have expressed concerns about the cultural impact, emphasizing the negative effects on identity and self-image, particularly among the youth. Efforts to protect the gákti date back to the 1930s, with limited success. Despite establishing a certification trademark, Sámi Duodji, in the 1980s, legal protection remains inadequate. Cultural appropriation is evident, but the Sámi claim a lack of means to protect their traditional dress.


The Sámi dress, which features vibrant and intricately embroidered patterns, with a distinctive cut and colorful adornments, is a vital part of their cultural heritage, reflecting identity, family connections, and social bonds. It serves as a key element in individual and collective identities, distinguishing Sámi people across borders. Rules govern its use, with indications that only Sámi individuals or those connected to Sámi society should wear the dress, emphasizing its cultural significance.

Customary norms regarding Sámi dress align with Sámi perceptions of land use. These norms, dynamic and flexible, have developed over time. While recognized as traditions, they lack legal acknowledgment. The conflict arises when Finnish intellectual property laws allow the commercial use of Sámi dress without protection, contrary to Sámi customs.


The Sámi's demands for protection, rooted in their right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, have faced certain challenges. Political attention has been limited, with the Sámi Parliament addressing the issue more actively in recent years. Calls for cultural sustainability and guidelines for portraying Sámi culture truthfully have been made, but formal legal protection for Sámi symbols, including the dress, remains inadequate.


In conclusion, despite the formal protection of the Sámi as an indigenous people in the Finnish Constitution, the implementation has been lacking. Structural racism is suggested in the tourism industry's refusal to address Sámi concerns. The Sámi Parliament's limited political attention to the issue is attributed to a complex collective nature of Sámi dress customs. The economic and cultural significance of the dress necessitates legal and political actions to protect Sámi cultural identity and human dignity, particularly for the benefit of Sámi youth expressing concerns about their identity and place in society.

El Camino de los Altos, Mexico
Contemporary Mayan Textiles

The rich tapestry of El Camino de los Altos (ECLA), where textiles, handwoven, embroidered, and meticulously crafted, are born from a profound collaboration between French textile designers and artisans from the Altos de Chiapas.  The organization’s commitment goes beyond quality craftsmanship, embodying the principles of trade that is both fair and supportive. 

Historical Tapestry

In 1996, El Camino, a French non-profit, emerged as a collective effort of friends, textile professionals, and graphic designers. In January 2009, the Mexican civil association El Camino de Los Altos (ECLA) was established in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. The collective consisted of 130 artisan women from various municipalities and eight French textile designers, and became a bridge between ancestral knowledge and contemporary design.

For over two decades, the 130 artisans of the Altos de Chiapas have been exchanging their exceptional skills with French designers. Their multicultural collaboration thrives on sensitivity, creativity, and professionalism, creating a collective space where weavers and designers walk together, exchanging knowledge through methods curated by ECLA.

Cultural Collaboration

Rooted in traditional Mayan knowledge, iconography, and techniques, the collaboration of El Camino and ECLA aims to place these exquisite textiles in a market that not only recognizes but also values the significant work done by women, thus enhancing their economic remuneration. The tireless efforts of the artisans, weavers, and designers extend beyond the professional and social aspects. Workshops in the communities delve into the development of textile art, rescuing techniques, promoting creativity, and even offering health training and literacy programs in Tsotsil.

Meet the Artisans

Véronique Tesseraud, a textile designer specializing in warp and weft, initiated El Camino in 1996. Her thesis project on Mayan textile art led her to Mexico City, where she developed the theme of designs and crafts. Later, in Paris, completing her specialization in weaving at l'ENSCI, she continued traveling to Mexico, contributing significantly to the collaborative projects.

Ana Rosa González de la Cruz, a vital part of El Camino since 2009, hails from Zinacantán. A scholarship holder while completing a Human Development Degree, Ana Rosa serves as a bridge between weaving women and office personnel. Her bilingual proficiency (Tsotsil being her mother tongue) aids in communication and translation during various activities.

The ECLA operational team, comprising 100% women, including 5 from the Altos de Chiapas, handles administrative, logistical, monitoring, and communication tasks from the headquarters in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Commitment to Community

Workshops conducted in the 11 communities under El Camino de Los Altos association are facilitated by textile professionals. The emphasis is on active participation, conserving knowledge, and developing new designs. Solidarity and mutual trust form the foundation of their relationships, paving the way for a collective project that benefits all.

The ECLA headquarters is a hub of community development, housing a sewing workshop, an experimentation workshop, a playroom, a library, and a bedroom for weavers and their children. Ethics is at the core of their operations, ensuring fair remuneration for fellow weavers and transparency in every step—from product pricing to marketing.

Traditional Techniques

El Camino and ECLA preserve and celebrate traditional techniques such as the pre-Hispanic waist loom, needle embroidery, pedal loom, wool work, and natural dye processes. The resulting collection includes cushions, tablecloths, placemats, table runners, kitchen towels, shawls, and various accessories, all made with 100% cotton and natural dyes.

The working methodology involves guiding, instructing, and qualifying craftswomen in creating new textile designs. Designers travel annually to Mexico to collaborate on ideas, color charts, and propose working methodologies that empower artisans with the necessary processes for commercializing their products.

Funding & Revenue Model

Funding primarily comes from the sales of their own craft textiles. In 2019, El Camino was authorized to receive donations. Their revenue model revolves around the production and sale of contemporary Maya handcrafted textile products for homes, available in their store in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in exhibition-fairs in Paris, throughout Mexico, and online.

01 Research & Documentation

02 Case Studies

03 Manufacturing & Transformation

04 Legal & Anthropological Support

05 Current Collaborations

06 References & Dissemination

07 Multimedia, References & Sources

CADA Foundation, is a public charity foundation under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 501 (c) (3), registered in the state of New York. Donors can deduct contributions they make under IRC Section 170 (b) (1) (A) (vi) . CADA is also a member of the UNESCO Sustainability Chair in Barcelona, Spain. Its team is composed of dedicated individuals who have strong interest and concern towards the future of heritage, identity, and local value.