Nike has apologised and withdrawn one of its shoes after an indigenous group in Panama said the sportswear giants had used its traditional “mola” pattern in its design.
The Air Force 1 “Puerto Rico” model was a limited edition version of one of the brand’s signature shoes and was not due to launch in stores until 6 June.
But images of the multi-coloured trainer were posted on social media and clearly showed the pattern, prompting accusations of “pirating” from the Guna community of Panama, who make up one of the seven indigenous groups in the South American country. They are now seeking compensation from Nike.
The majority of Guna people live in the Guna Yala region, which is a narrow strip of land on the east coast of Panama that environmentalists say is under threat due to rising sea levels as a result of global warming.
Their distinctive mola design features colourful geometric patterns and swirls.
Guna chief Belisario Lopez accused Nike of using the design without permission at a a press conference in Panama City on Tuesday.
“They must recognise that the mola that appears on the Nike shoes is from the Guna people,” he told French news agency AFP, adding that “thousands” of other designs from indigenous people are regularly “pirated” by multinational companies.
A lawyer for the group, Aresio Valient, describedthe design as “part of the spirituality of the Guna people” and said he was seeking compensation from the sportswear brand.
In a statement, 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.”