Matthew Williamson inspired by traditional Ethiopian dress

We all know the story of designer inspired clothes and accessories, including high end designers finding inspiration from different cultures. But has Matthew Williamson taken his Ethiopian inspirations a step too far?

Two dresses from his latest spring summer 2008 collection were so similar to Ethiopia’s traditional national dress that the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Oxfam are investigating the matter.

Abdurazak Omer of the Intellectual Property Office in Addis Ababa said: “We are very unhappy with the actions of Mr Williamson. These are the dresses of our mothers and grandmothers. They symbolise our identity, faith and national pride. Nobody has the right to claim these designs as their own.”

But a spokewomen for Matthew Williamson has released a statement saying that “the design team derived inspiration from various African countries and tribal groups. In presenting his spring/ summer 2008 collection Matthew Williamson strived to gain recognition and admiration for not only the traditional dress of the Ethiopian people, but also other African communities whose beautiful traditional techniques are also evident in the show.”

One might say that this is not uncommon, with blogger, Marian, saying that Williamson is not the first designer to be inspired by African dress.

“I recall a McQueen show in London where African tribal dress was a theme and also Red Or Dead’s last ever catwalk show under the control of Wayne and Geradine was inspired by Africans in London and referenced tribal dress as well as knock out creations like the dress made from a beaded car seat.”

But it is good to keep in mind that traditional Ethiopian tailors earn up to 200 Ethiopian Birr a month, the equivalent of £10, while Williamson dress are priced the dress £895.

Do you think Williamson offended the Ethiopians or his inspirations were justified?

[Images: &]


  • Fashion Critic says:

    Why can’t they be flattered by this?

    I see this as a tribute.

    Designers get inspiration from all different sources, that what makes the fashion industry so interesting and varied.

    I would not have known about this traditional dress if this issue had not arisen so I am educated as a result.

    I see this as a good thing.

  • Lisa says:

    Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to get the designer look for less then 😉

  • Wombat says:

    It is only a tribute if the designer attribute his design to the Ethiopian cultural costume. However, we do not know the whole story. There may be other African countries with traditional costumes like this. The spokeswoman did mention that it was inspire by African communities

  • Naly says:

    As I see it from the picture, what Williamson did is not inspiration but theft.

  • natasha says:

    this is just copy of ethiopian dress, he didn’t even change it a bit he just put it as it is……….what a designer!! haha

  • natasha says:

    Wombat there is no other african countries with traditional costumes like this!!!!!!this is only ethiopian and some Eritrean cultural costume.

    atleast he should say it as its ethiopian dress

  • shame says:

    “Designers get inspiration from all different sources, that what makes the fashion industry so interesting and varied.”

    inspiration!! what he did is just COPY Exactly!!

  • Tigist says:

    This is totally looks like the orginal Ethiopian traditional dress not even a copy.

  • videodoll says:

    I love the dresses but I agree that he didn’t make them his own, they are quite similar to the original.

  • zabatsion says:

    As an ethiopian, i would say Matthew did good job. Moreover,to the style ,he credited ethiopia. so those of you who complaind of theft , how can this be a theft.

  • shame says:

    zabatsion i bet if u are ethiopian. didn’t u see this dress in ethiopia?? what did he change on this dresses? noting!!! where is the creativity?? he put those dresses as he did it himself, what a shame!

  • lemlem says:

    matthew si lava as all his past fathers. the dresses belong to ETHIOPIA ALL WAYS for thousand years

  • lemlem says:

    leave ethiopia alone antah farenji soch toh alfelegim western ways matthew that dress is ethiopian and you sir are a lava which means thief in amharic the language of pp you are rippingoff. this is our culture and way of life

  • hadera says:

    This is inspiring for me to see my traditional cloth desplayed in the world of fashion. To correct every one this is not only ethiopian traditional cloth. It belongs to Abyssinians this cover some part of ethiopia and Eritrea population.
    Good work
    If you are interested to buy call me on 02075619948. I have a biutifull collection in my shop in Finsbury Park.

  • Daughter of Light says:

    Mathew was not inspired by the Ethiopian traditional cloth. He committed theft. But the most important thing is what is in his peoples’ mind to be done next? We are tired of smooth “inspirational interest” white people show to something traditional and couple of years later claim a patent on it. This has happened repeatedly on Ethiopian treasures and this one will also go to the same direction if something is not done right away. This is disrespectful!!!

  • Biruktawit says:

    That was totally an inspiration; it was a good thing to see the magnificence culture of my people but the ugliest part was Mathew’s denial, he knows the truth it is defiantly the culture of the extraordinary people of Ethiopia. Moreover, the listing he can do was be genuine & a mater of fact the local designers them selves did better than he did, he can come see it for him self. So all am saying is come clean and tell the truth. Surely, the world knows Ethiopia is full of culture. Nevertheless, one thing I want to say to “Ato” Mathew is thank you so much for your attempt to show our culture to your people. And people, especially my people please …please give him a break he did the job for us, we should thank him for that plus we should be proud of it.

  • Habeshian says:

    I’ve a dress just like those ones. This is hilarious to me. I just cannot believe Matthew claims this as his on. The second one, specially is very popular in Ethiopia. It’s exactly the same!! A lot of Ethiopian are outraged by this. He should have at least said his idea came from Ethiopian cultural clothing, although its actually it. I don’t care if every designer does this, but he’s not getting away with this one. We’ve been dressed in those clothings long enough to know that they are unique and they are OURS!

  • Habeshian says:

    It even has the netela! Wow…
    Yehe leba!

  • JessicaR says:

    There is a fine line (in Fashion as with anything else) between appropriation and flat out copying. The difference being appropriation generally means acknowledging your source as well as changing the original in some way to “speak back” to itself. Personally I do not think Williamson has done either of these things. So that leaves us with simply copying. I fail to see how the ethiopians would feel in any way flattered, seeing there designs were not acknowledged as their in the first place. Someone is making alot of money and it sure as hell isn’t them.

  • Elsa Roddy says:

    why shhould we be happy for some ejit to come along and steal something which has defined our culture and our being for thousands of years. Its think if it were vice versa and we robbed a european design it would be tolerated NO WAY! also what disgusts me is that we are not a rich country our economy is much is he gooing to charge for his copyright infringment???. thousands prehaps he should donate a nice precentage to an ethiopian charity?? I feel robbed in a way , robbed of our identity and in a way robbed of a partof our culture. I wouldnt mind but its EXACTLY the same..If I see this on celebrities who dont even know where ethiopia is on a map I will be VERY upset!
    Im not trying to sound bad but we have already had wars with italy defending our land and our resources(they managed to robb our coffee and claim it as they’re own)and now we must copyright our own traditional clothes???
    WE dont robb from others so what gives him the right???

  • Elsa Roddy says:

    Does this mean that we abashas must copyright all that is ethiopian to us?? our land our coffee our tradtional food (Injera/Wat)? must we always be afraid that theivery will happen at anytime to anything? I thought the days of colonization were over..but this is modern day colonization. Why must the west constantly claim what is rightfully ours?? land/gold/coffee/diamonds/silver and now our cultural clothes? How can we take it as flattery? if someone ROBBED YOUR HOME and sold your belongings for huge amounts of money pocketing any profits..would you be flattered?I think not you would be angry and would want what was rightfully yours back..There is NO difference here..we are angry and upset and we rightfully want justice! LAEBA(Theif)

  • CFV says:

    what if an ethiopian designer recreated these traditional dresses? what would be your response then? just curious if some of you would feel as strongly about the matter.

  • Liya says:

    In response to CFV all Ethiopian designers who make clothes use these styles because they are traditional Ethiopian styles in terms of the pattern/cut of the dress and the placement of the embroidery down the center/front of the dress and along the bottom. The scarf (called netela) that has been tied around the waist on the short dress is also Ethiopian. All Ethiopian designers who make these clothes acknowledge that they are using a traditional Ethiopian style – they do not say that they are inspired by Ethiopian styles nor do they appropriate the design/style as their own. There are various Ethiopian designers who vary the pattern/cut slightly — they actually do a better job than Matthew Williamson when it comes to creativity and they are actually known for their clothes. The problem with what Matthew Williamson has done is that he copied something that is 100% Ethiopian and failed to acknowledge that he did so. He took something that Ethiopians and Eritreans have been designing and wearing for thousands of years and claimed it as his own. I’m not sure how much you know about Ethiopia and Ethiopian clothes but anyone who has seen Ethiopian clothes will instantly recognize Matthew Williamson’s plagiarism. To give you an idea of the extent of his plagiarism, what he has done is akin to putting the South Asian sari on a runway without any variation or changes, in other words, exactly as it is worn by the average Indian woman, and claiming it as his own. He needs to give credit where credit is due and come clean about the fact that all he’s doing is selling something that is quintessentially Ethiopian at a highly inflated price. It is important to acknowledge your sources regardless of what field you are in. The fact that he has not done so speaks to a possible lack of creativity and talent on his part. The fact that he is plagiarising something that Ethiopian and Eritrean mothers, sisters and grandmothers have worn for thousands of years is a clear indication of his lack of respect for the culture and people who created the clothes he has chosen to put on the runway. Shame on him is all I have to say.

    Again, just to reiterate, the problem is not that he put Ethiopian clothes on the runway. The problem is that he failed to recreate the clothes or to be inspired – he simply put carbon copies on the runway. The clothes are an exact replica of what you will find in the cities and villages of Ethiopia.

  • Hiwot (Correct Ethiopian) says:

    Hey you stupid thieve!!!!! You think you can get away with this oh really my people have won the Italians without guns and you only by one stone on your head. Take care!!!!
    Arent even ashemed!!! An International designer!! OHHOHOHO how can a stupid theif who didnt even change the design can be a famous designer. hahahaha
    My mother has tons of this respected clothes if you want I will show you, you theif. AH
    After some time you will also claim our Enjera and Wet are yours.
    You may think this clothe is nothing for you. But for us it is our identity, pride, culture, who we really are. It belongs to our ansestors. May the bone of our ansestors destory all your reputation And the truth will soon come out you edit.
    What kind of person are you?? Because of you i got in to SINS. May God judge on you?
    Everyone who think he did right are the same like him, you are THEIVES.OUR ENEMY OKAY!!!!
    I am so happy now our culture willbe know to the world hahahahahaha thanks William the theif.
    (I couldnt stop laughing)hahahahahhahahahha!!!!



  • muna says:

    iam ethiopian and i like what he did to show oure caulther for forn pepel and iam so happy agen what he done for us plise do not bater the guy what he did ok thanks

  • ethiopia says:

    hi for myself there is nothing wrong, if later you pirates dont charge me for using my own culture design. I have always known designers are creative-less and have always depended on other peoples things for their worth. But a just so it go. The ethiopians cannot handle all that the west will through at them, and for sure they will see what the Emperor had to face and over-come. Bye for now keep pirating my bands of thieves.

  • Ashangulit says:

    Like all of you Ethiopians out there, I am offened by his claim. I understand he can be inspired and I admit our dresses are amazingly beautiful but claiming as his own creativity is very wrong. I hope something has been done about this theft.

  • Ashangulit says:

    Muna, he is not showing our culture or reflecting our people’s creativity, he is claiming it as his own work…when its purly a copy-cut. And please check your spelling before you submit!!!

  • Ethiopia Wins says:

    Thanks everybody!! I am glad that this stupid thief has been unanimously condemned by everybody!!! But i want to ask: A lot has been said and isn’t there any law whereby he could be tried?? I need to know and would like to help in all i can to see that he is summoned to the court and duly tried!! Somebody please tell me!??

    Lots of love to all my country fellows!!

  • eptose says:


  • Dagmawi says:

    Matthew Williamson,

    You did not stole simply a design of a cloth but our(Ethiopian’s) traditional cloth which defines our culture and differentiate from all other countries.
    What I’m sure is, you don’t read our history, we are the only African’s who didn’t colonized by another countries. We didn’t let things go easily, WE NEVER FORGET OUR ENEMY.

  • Mira says:

    I wonder what happened afterwards, is there any consequence for such acts? and maybe if there’s anyone in the design profession, please let us know, is this legal?

  • Stanley says:

    Give me a break. Ethiopia is FILLED with little shops selling rip off designers from all over the world, and regarding Mathew Williamson’s designs, you are asking “is this legal”?!? Ethiopia should be proud that someone as talented as Mathew Williamson is highlighting Ethiopian fashion. From coffee to fashion to NGO’s, Ethiopians keep knocking everyone down, making it difficult for anyone to do business in the country. They just ruin it for themselves in the end because people will want to invest elsewhere. They have so much pride that their heads are stuck in the clouds. No one will want ANYTHING to do with the country if they keep up this kind of negative attitude. Take it as a compliment Ethiopia!

  • Tina says:

    By reading all of the negative comments above which claim to be written by Ethiopians, I would NEVER want to do any business in Ethiopia. Keep up the good work on ruining any investment for your country.

  • ayeFerenj says:

    @tina and Stanly
    Why should we be proud coz some designer took our long lived traditional cloth and show it to the world.why do u think we care if the world know our cloth or not.or may be do u think we can’t do that if we want to promote our cloth,u think every thing can only be done by u guys.and we should give u all we got and let u show us to the world.we don’t have mouth or professionals to introduce our culture to the world.just because we r African? Doing business is another thing coz wn u do business both party get profit out of it wt do we got out of this one.Tell me what business was proposed to Ethiopia for this I know may be it is legal bla bla bla ,ya he can do it ,but don’t tell me it has any thing to do with promoting Ethiopia and Business Pls ,Ya we r proud ppl and guess what it is us today who r being told From coffee-to fashion ,i don’t want to do business in ethiopia ….. guess what it will be u tommorow.

  • eritreawit says:

    well ppl i don’t think he was inspired by the traditional dress. I think he was out of idea and dicided to steal…. copy cat…lol just to let you know we do have better designers with old technology and do better job than u did… may God bless you anyway

  • Kae Livingston says:

    So, everyone has different opinions, but that doesnt give us the right to trash on one another. Ethiopians have the right to stand up for their cultural clothing. This design is not any normal casual wear clothing it is a symbolic, cultural and historic item. @Stanley: you say ethiopia has a lot of small shops with ripped off clothing from all over the world. How do you know this, do you live there? If you havent realized but ive seen ripped of iteams not just clothing everywhere in america and other non-african contries too. Ethiopians can do businesses for them selves and doesnt need people like him taking ideas without any acknowlegements. And how are ethiopians negative. How would an american feel if an african country copied the same idea of a constitution and if the africans said we are just embracing this around africa. Even though the constitution has a huge impact in America. Ethiopia would love help in any kind way as of any other country would. But not in a way where their heart felt historical items are being recognized around the world as someone else’s work of art. And as of “not” having any business’ in Ethiopia that is a false statement. Ethiopia has many coffee and gold business. Also as their music industry has been recognized by shakira and some other known artists. Ethiopia is known to have very kind people living there in the city. Also, their fashion industry is doing well without any help from foreigners. My comment is mostly filled with facts and not based on opinions. This designer has hurt some ethiopians and has pleased other ethiopians. As of any other i would say there should’ve been a little more communication between this designer and the ethiopian government about these designs before they were getting presented in his collection. These designs in my opinion are beautiful, and in my opinion he should’ve gave somewhat of an acknowlegement to ethiopians so all this negativity, from everyone could be less dramatized. Everyone, anywhere who is reading this should try putting this as if it happened to them, then how would you feel. I can not speak for everyone but myself so please think about any situation (like this) before throwing out comments about stuff you have no clue about. We arent even informed the whole story so please dont let any of these comments set your mind on a complete opinion before you think about it yourself.

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