The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania have a distinctive look that is widely imitated. Their style and name alike have been used by high-end designers such as Louis Vuitton, manufacturers like moccasin maker Minnetonka, and many more. You can buy a “Maasai” bathing suit for $300, or a “Maasai mosh dress” for $430, online, right now.
These items are not actually made by the Maasai people, though, nor are they compensated for anything sold under brands using their name, which has helped sell billions of dollars worth of goods worldwide over the years, according to Light Years IP, a Washington, DC nonprofit that works on public interest intellectual property issues internationally. That’s why it created the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative (MIPI), putting businesses on notice. Companies must cease and desist referring to the trademark name Maasai or copying the signature Maasai style without a licensing agreement.
MIPI works to represent Maasai IP rights by organizing the community, gaining consensus on appropriate usage of the brand, forcing companies to obtain licenses from the Maasai to use their intellectual property, and then distributing funds as has been deemed appropriate by the people. “Nearly 80% percent of the Maasai population in Kenya and Tanzania are living below the poverty line,” the website explains. “Yet their distinctive and iconic cultural brand and intellectual property concepts have been used commercially around the globe.”
Get the full story of QUARTZ