Nike cancels 'Puerto Rico' shoe over Panama indigenous design

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Panama's Guna indigenous women display molas (Guna's hand made textile) attend a press conference in Panama City, on May 21, 2019Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Guna women displayed traditional "mola" costume at a news conference in Panama City

US sportswear giant Nike is withdrawing a new version of its classic Air Force 1 shoe after objections from an indigenous group in Panama.

The limited edition model was described as a tribute to Puerto Rico but the Guna community of Panama said it used their traditional "mola" pattern.

The group accused Nike of "pirating" a protected traditional design.

Nike has apologised for the "inaccurate representation" of the shoe and said it would not be made available.

The Air Force 1 Low "Puerto Rico" model was due to have been launched in June.

The Guna people, known as Kuna until 2011, live mainly in low-lying Caribbean islands that make up the Guna Yala autonomous region and are one of seven indigenous groups in Panama. Environmentalists say they are under threat from rising sea levels caused by global warming.

Their traditional mola patterns feature colourful, swirling designs and geometric or figurative drawings to represent the Guna people's world view.

A lawyer for the group said on Tuesday they were not just seeking the shoe's withdrawal, but also compensation.

"There is already damage to our image, to our design, to our mola. We are not going to wait for it to be thrown away, we have to seek compensation," Aresio Valiente told a news conference in Panama City.

Traditional Guna leader Belisario López said in a statement that they were not against the mola being commercialised but were angered that it was "being done without consulting us first".

"They must recognise that the mola that appears on the Nike shoes is from the Guna people," he said.

Some supporters of the Guna also took to social media to criticise Nike's decision.

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A statement from Nike said: "We apologise for the inaccurate representation of the design origin for the Nike Air Force 1 'Puerto Rico' 2019. As a result, this product will no longer be available."

Industry sources said the launch of the shoe had been designed to coincide with the Puerto Rican Day Parade on 9 June.