UK fashion house Timbuktu in the soup for trademarking ‘Yoruba’

A British fashion company Timbuktu is facing a barrage of attacks on social media for cultural appropriation after trademarking ‘Yoruba’, the name of an ethnic group of people from West Africa.

Latest disclosures from the UK’s intellectual property office show that Timbuktu, a clothing enterprise, filed to trademark the word ‘Yoruba’ in 2015.

The BBC said the brand registration caused anger on Sunday, May 24, when Gbemisola Isimi, founder of CultureTree, an African cultural centre in London that creates opportunities to learn and experience African languages, arts and culture, wrote that her attempt to trademark “Yoruba stars” attracted a challenge from Timbuktu citing similarity to the phrase the fashion house had already registered.

According to the United Kingdom regulations, a proposed trademark can be challenged if it conflicts or bears similarity to one that has been previously approved.

The Yoruba are an ethnic group of about 35 million people that live in western African countries of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.

“I thought it was really strange that a company would be allowed to trademark the word ‘Yoruba’, a tribe and language of millions of people,” said CultureTree founder Gbemisola Isimi. “I feel this is the height of cultural appropriation,” Gbemisola was quoted by the BBC.

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Cultural appropriation is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. The practice turns controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from minority cultures.

Gbemisola accused Timbuktu of “attempting to claim sole ownership of birth right belonging to the people of another continent”. “I don’t think anybody should own ‘Yoruba’ she was quoted by CNN. “I don’t think it should be allowed to happen.”

Gbemisola’s posts went viral under #YorubaIsNotForSale hashtag as social media users called out Timbuktu.

“It’s the violence of cultural appropriation, just deciding that the story of something is irrelevant once you decide you want it and want to profit from it,” wrote Kelechi Okafor, founder and Twitter fitness studio influencer. “What comes to your mind to be able to record the word ‘Yoruba’ FOR YEARS,” noted author and journalist Bolu Babalola.

Following the online heat, Timbuktu deactivated its Twitter handle and disabled comments on its Instagram account. They also sent out a communication, saying that they would be handing the trademark over to CultureTree, for free.

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