Nike halted production on a line of sportswear on Wednesday after an outcry that the designs were culturally insensitive. The women's running tights, bodysuit, and sports bra in the Nike Pro Tattoo Tech line were decorated with a pattern based on Samoan tattoos called pe'a, which are traditionally reserved for men.
"To the outside world it's just a design," a commenter, Freddie Ika, wrote on a Change.org petition that was launched on August 2 to protest the sale of the items. "But to my Polynesian people, it's sacred." Another comment read, "I am 100% Samoan and I find Nike's blatant disrespect and profit over my culture's way of life shameless and irreverent. The tatau is thousands of years old with a tradition of honor and you have reduced it to $80 Spanx. Remove at once!"
The Polynesian tradition of applying tattoos is thought to go back at least 2,000 years. The craft is passed from father to son, and artists still use sharpened boar's teeth and pieces of turtle shell fastened to a wooden handle to prick the design into the skin. Pe'a cover the body from the waist down to the knees. The process is extremely painful and can take days — even months — to complete. It's a rite of passage that symbolizes courage and a commitment to traditional ways. The word tattoo is believed to be derived from the Samoan "tatau."
"Before you launch into something like this, there's generally a consultation with those…who have ownership of this pattern," New Zealand Labour MP Su'a William Sio told TVNZ. "I don't think Nike has taken the time to do that."
Nike previewed the limited-edition items on Twitter on July 29. Two days later, the sporting goods giant wrote on the Nike blog, "The NTM (Nike Tight of the Moment) gets all fancy pants again, this time looking to the tattoos of Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand for the latest head-turning design, the Nike Pro Tattoo Tech tights (and sports bra and bodysuit)."
As of Thursday morning, the apparel was still pictured on the Nike website but listed as unavailable. Nike hasn't responded to Yahoo! Shine's request for an interview, but according to TVNZ, the company issued a written statement Wednesday afternoon saying, "The Nike tattoo tech collection was inspired by tattoo graphics. We apologize to anyone who views this design as insensitive to any specific culture. No offense was intended."
It's not the first Nike product to spark controversy in recent years. In March 2012, the company apologized for releasing a sneaker called "Black and Tan" — the name of a British paramilitary group that violently suppressed the Irish during their fight for independence in the 1920s — on the eve of St. Patrick's Day. In April, the company yanked T-shirts emblazoned with the blood-splattered words "Boston Massacre" from stores in the days following the horrific attack on the Boston Marathon. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Pro Tattoo Tech leggings appeared to have been removed from Nike's website.
Bloop bloop, first fallout of the recent "tribal" trend it seems.