Nike’s Samoan tattoo designs for their Nike Pro Tattoo Tech Tights for women runners were released last week. Now they’ve already been yanked from the market, thanks to complaints from the native Samoan community.
The black and white traditional tattoos were featured on tights, sports bras, and other athletic gear for women. However, the Samoan community was angry because they said that the patterns were based on pe’a, a sacred tattoo that can only be worn by men.
The New Zealand Herald said bluntly that Nike’s Samoan tattoos were a cultural faux pas. There was public outcry everywhere from Facebook to a petition on Change.org.
Many people felt that Nike acted disrespectfully when they exploited the design without consulting with the Samoan people first. “To the outside world it’s just a design. But to my Polynesian people, it’s sacred,” one commentator said in Otago Daily Times.
Nike said that they were actually inspired by tattoo graphics and hadn’t intended any disrespect.
Maybe. But one of their ads was still floating around Twitter. As you can see from the photo, they did kinda sorta know where the design came from. I’m willing to believe that they just saw some Samoans with cool tats and never put it together that the designs were only worn by men.
But however it happened Nike messed up.
New Zealand politican Su’a William Sio said on One News that it was considered a good idea to consult with the folks who owned a design before you simply appropriated their pattern. “I don’t think Nike has taken the time to do that.”
But not everyone in New Zealand or even Samoa took the tempest in a teapot all that seriously:
Don’t understand why ppl so upset bout Nike doin samoan patterns on their gear yet have Chinese symbols tatted on them #STFU
— HalfBake (@Halfbake77) August 14, 2013
Complaining bout Nike tattoo designs yt boys&grls ar gettn the kakau and malu &cnt even speak a drop of Samoan. #SitDown
— Eseta Myree Penaia (@EMP_0911) August 14, 2013
I just got a curt note that the items are no longer for sale when I visited the Nike website. I noticed they’d already popped up on eBay though.
The company has now apologized. They meant no offense to any specific culture by using the Samoan tattoos, Nike said in a statement.
[top photo Nike ad via Nike Insider]