Shein, the Chinese online retailer known for its fast fashion and controversial practices, launched a new collection inspired by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in 2022. However, the collaboration has sparked controversy because it is with the Frida Kahlo Corporation (FKC), a Panamanian licensing and commercialization company that has been in a legal dispute with some members of the artist’s family for almost a decade over trademark and property rights.
The ongoing dispute between FKC and Kahlo’s relatives began in 2003 when Maria Cristina Romeo Pinedo, Kahlo’s great-niece, was granted power of attorney over the artist’s property rights. In 2004, Pinedo and others formed FKC with the primary objective of “licensing and commercializing the ‘Frida Kahlo’ brand worldwide.” However, in recent years, Kahlo’s descendants have been fighting with FKC over licensing and trademark rights for assets like the artist’s image.
The controversy surrounding the Shein collaboration is just the latest episode in this ongoing dispute. Kahlo’s relatives have previously challenged FKC’s licensing rights in court, successfully halting sales of a Frida Kahlo Barbie doll in Mexico. In 2021 September, a Florida court dismissed a legal dispute between FKC and Kahlo’s descendants, but the family has continued to fight for control over the artist’s image and legacy.
Critics of the Shein collaboration argue that the retailer’s fast fashion business model and history of stealing designs make it an unsuitable partner for a brand like Frida Kahlo. Additionally, Shein has faced recent scrutiny over exploitative working conditions in its factories. These issues raise questions about the ethics of the collaboration and whether it is appropriate to use Kahlo’s image to sell cheaply made clothing.
In conclusion, the Shein x Frida Kahlo collaboration has reignited the long-standing dispute between the Frida Kahlo Corporation and some members of Kahlo’s family over licensing and trademark rights. The controversy highlights the complicated legal and ethical issues surrounding the commercialization of cultural icons and raises questions about the responsibilities of retailers and licensing companies in protecting the legacies of artists and their families.