Nike was set to release a new version of their Air Force 1’s with a Puerto Rico theme in June, in anticipation of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. But the company announced that they were pulling the design following claims of cultural appropriation and plagiarism of the indigenous “Mola” design from Panama. Panama is one of the few countries that recognizes indigenous’ groups rights to intellectual property.
The traditional leader of the Guna Yala community, Belisario López, said in Panama City during a press conference: “We are not against our ‘mola’ being commercialized. What we oppose is it being done without consulting us first.”
Panamanian DJ Clark Kent also explained the meaning behind the “Mola” design:
View this post on Instagram
This is called a “Mola” • It is a Panamanian art form. You can find it anywhere in my home country, PANAMA • Respectfully, This is not a part of Puerto Rico’s rich culture. • Though we are both Spanish speaking people, we have different traditions, art & cultural expressions. When celebrating one, please do proper research. These things should not be confused. •
This is what the Air Force 1’s looked like:
@Nike Guys, these are cool sneakers, and I get the reference to the Coquí frog, but this pattern and design are NOT from Puerto Rico!
It's a design called MOLA, made by the Guna people in Panama and parts of Colombia.
It is a HUGE failure of your research departament. pic.twitter.com/NsgUrRiYAM
— Isaac Larrier (@IsaacLarrier) May 16, 2019
Twitter reactions ensued, with many saying it was a good decision to pull the design and calling out that it was not reflective of Puerto Rican culture.
.@Nike, when you make a tribute sneaker for Puerto Rico, note that "mola" art is from the Indigenous people of Gunayala in Panama. So, here's my quick #LaBorinqueña mockup and we can donate proceeds to our grants program in PR and the Mola shoe can benefit Panama! Hit me up! pic.twitter.com/X8zQFTLKyh
— Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez 🇵🇷 La Borinqueña (@MrEdgardoNYC) May 21, 2019
Executives @Nike right now: Soooo…Panama and Puerto Rico are NOT the same thing?! Shocker.
— Señorita Margarita (@MartaMarg) May 22, 2019
Perfect gift for your Puerto Rican friend who was born in Panama. 👀 https://t.co/mU0b1KeH5i
— luminoso (@djluminous) May 16, 2019
@Nike you are better than this. Please do research. Because you just appropriated Panamanian Mila for your “Puerto Rico” Air Force 1. This print is made by the indigenous Kuna people from Panama. #shameshameshame #someoneneedstobefired #wrongcountrybro #wearenotallthesame pic.twitter.com/zFKGiY5Iim
— Miraida Vazquez (@cris6286) May 21, 2019
— Kickin_flyshit (@KFlyshit) May 19, 2019
At least two people are mourning that the design won’t be available:
It’s a shame. I have never buy @Nike at all, but I was looking forward to these sneakers. Are you going to create a new design for #puertoRico or are we going to be forgotten like the government is doing? #NeverForget #ProhibidoOlvidar #mariastruggle #weneedmorethanpapertowel https://t.co/eJhTC5ak7y
— Lyrsa Maria (@Lyrsa) May 22, 2019
@Nike @nikestore @nikesb please🙏🏽 do not cancel the #airforce1 #PuertoRico I don’t need another pair of shoes with the flag all over the shoes.. the approach you took to develop the shoes represent the Latino and the PR community nicely.
— Luis Maldonado (@QELQEfra) May 20, 2019
The company said in a statement: “We apologize 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.”