French Firm Poaches and Patents PNG’s “Bilum”
A French firm has patented the bilum. Yes, it’s true. And the name of this particular French firm – well, have a guess! The firm has decided to call itself Bilum and you can find their website here.
Bilum (the French firm) makes bags and accessories using recycled advertising banners. Every one is unique, because the material comes from the giant advertising hoardings that are found on buildings undergoing work, department stores, and on the outskirts of large cities. The French brand (yes – it is now a ‘French brand’) uses recycled car seatbelts as handles and straps for its designs.
The most ironic thing about this French firm is that it labels its’ creations as “eco-ethical fashion” and it even entered the 2008 Ethical Fashion Show. I can accept the “eco” and the “fashion” – but how in the world can it be termed “ethical” when its’ commercial brand is a poached national cultural-identity unique to Papua New Guinea?
Treehugger wrote an article highlighting Bilum’s bags on the Paris shopping scene and a couple of wantoks have already voiced their concerns. The following is an excerpt of one such comment made by Rick Brittain, a Cairns’ expatriate who works in PNG:
“My original concern was that the name ‘bilum’ has basically been monopolized now, Internationally, and has been removed from its PNG roots. I actually met with Helene earlier this year, and found out that the company she operates is a predominently non-profit, recycling centre, using people with special needs to manufacture her bilums. Good luck to her, and I have no problem with that, and she is a genuine lady with genuine concerns for our planet.
I donated a couple of PNG bilums for her use, and she reciprocated with her bilums, which are certainly unique, but not genuine bilums as anyone who has spent time in PNG will tell you…(and)…you cannot mimic culture, it’s developed through centuries of trial and error”.
The author of Tubuans & Dukduks has somehow managed to keep his/her emotions under control for the duration of the penning of this post. But I will say say this: Paia bilong mi em i dai nating.
I will be sending Bilum (the French firm) an email detailing my deep concern about the blatant poaching and patenting of PNG’s name and product – bilum. So too can you. Here is their email address: email@example.com