February 21 2017
Alyssa Levesque, the longtime girlfriend of San Antonio Spurs player Patty Mills, says she was inspired by her boyfriend’s Australian islander heritage and designed her new StraitSwim swimwear line as an homage to his upbringing. But on the Torres Strait Islands, where the Mills’ family is from, there has been pushback and accusations of cultural appropriation.
StraitSwim’s Instagram account recently posted, “Our original prints, influenced by the landscape, lifestyle and people, will paint a picture of what these islands are all about.”
In a Facebook post early this morning, Mills defended his girlfriend, praising her for her interest in his culture, and saying the swimwear line “has been developed involving elders, artists and members of the Torres Strait.”
But that hasn’t stopped Levesque’s critics, who claimed she had no right to use the Torres Strait Islands, located between Australia and Papua New Guinea, as inspiration.
“So I’m just wondering who in the Torres Strait Islands gave Patty Mill’s kohleh woman permission to rip off our Torres Strait Culture and art and language,” one Facebook user posted under the name Janis Ah Chee. She added, “She is a white American woman, taking aspects of our Torres Strait Islander culture and making a profit off it!”
Others took offense at Levesque’s use of the term “Island Gypsy,” also complaining that some of the brand’s advertising photos appeared to have been taken in Hawaii, not the Torres Strait lslands. On the StraitSwim Facebook page, several users asked who had designed some of the patterns used by the brand, also accusing the company of deleting critical comments.
Another Facebook user, posting under Muriel Bin Dol, called the brand a “missed opportunity.”
“Imagine what could have been if our young Islander models, clothing designers and graphic designers were engaged on this project??? … Imagine the social and economic boost to the community. It is possible for non-Indigenous people to honor and support our Torres Strait culture through meaningful collaboration, rather than feeling compelled to create another more convenient version to sell to white people,” Dol wrote.
StraitSwim and Levesque did not reply to Heat Street’s request for a comment.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.