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Who "Owns" a Craft?

Posted on January 18 2020

Who “owns” a craft?

Can an American company make exclusive claims to “originality” on a Nepali women's craft? Or does doing so represent an act of cultural appropriation or theft?

There is an inherent tension that can arise when a craft, such as crocheted beadwork bracelets from Nepal, participates in the global market in partnership with an American (or other foreign) company.

As traditional crafts emerge onto the global stage, they also enter a business world where companies assert “ownership” over ideas, crafts, art, and words.

A craft that is practiced by women all over the world, such as crocheted beadwork bracelets, is suddenly claimed by an American company as “original” to them, obscuring the communal “ownership” of a craft practiced among women, mostly within their own homes.

Our perspective is that this kind of “craft claiming” is not only wrong and misguided, and not only confuses customers about the true story and women behind the craft, but borders on cultural appropriation and theft.

It also obscures the true element of originality in the craft, which is in design.

The beadwork bracelet division at Lotus Sky was founded by two Lhomi sisters, Lemon (Dawa) and Pema, who partnered with us to bring together women in their minority refugee community who wanted to earn income for their families, most of them for the first time.

Knowing that a Nepali-Lhomi-American partnership spoke to a cultural collaboration and the weaving of a global sisterhood, we have aimed always to creatively author a continual stream of new designs inspired by cultures all over the world (and our customers!). We have never made any claims of ownership over the crocheted beadwork craft itself, knowing that it is communally grown, nurtured and “owned.”

In our opinion, the “original” Nepal glass bead bracelets belong to a sea of women of many different ethnic groups and backgrounds in Nepal who collectively continue to create a living, evolving craft.

What is your take? Do you find the language of “originality” and ownership when applied to a craft itself problematic? Or is that just the cost of a craft participating in a Western marketplace?

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