News May 26, 2021 at 09:00 am

White-owned British company receives backlash for trademarking ‘Yoruba’

Francis Akhalbey | Content Manager

Francis Akhalbey May 26, 2021 at 09:00 am

May 26, 2021 at 09:00 am | News

Timbuktu Global, a White-owned fashion retail company trademarked "Yoruba" as far back as 2015 -- Photo via lindaikejisblog

A White-owned British clothing retailer has been accused of cultural appropriation on social media after it emerged the company had trademarked “Yoruba” and even tried blocking a Nigerian woman who wanted to also trademark a phrase with the name in it.

In a series of Twitter posts on Sunday, Gbemisola Isimi, the owner of a London-based African cultural establishment, revealed she got to know a White-owned fashion company by the name Timbuktu Global had trademarked “Yoruba” when she was trying to register a trademark for the phrase “Yoruba Stars.” The Nigerian, who teaches people how to speak the Yoruba language, said she had decided to trademark the phrase as it had become popular among her young students.

After registering the phrase, Isimi said she was later contacted by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to inform her the fashion company was against the registration as it had already trademarked “Yoruba” and opposed “anyone from using or registering any brands with the word.”

According to BBC, the fashion retail company had trademarked “Yoruba” – the name and language of one of West Africa’s largest ethnic groups – as far back as 2015. “I thought it was strange it was allowed to happen. I explained to them that Yoruba is not just a word, it’s the people, the religion, a language of over 50 million people all over the world, not just in Nigeria,” she told the news outlet.

Though the company initially informed Isimi it was going to challenge her trademark, she said the company later offered to sell the “Yoruba” trademark to her. But she refused. “I refused their offer and told them they won’t be getting any free money from me. If they value it so much why did they want to sell it?!,” she tweeted.

“I feel this is the height of cultural appropriation,” she added. “I told them I do not think Africans or the global media for that matter would take kindly to a company with roots in the north of England attempting to claim sole ownership of a birth right belonging to the people of another continent.”

Following her tweets, Nigerians took to social media with the hashtag #YorubaIsNotForSale to call out the company for appropriating their culture. Besides the “Yoruba” controversy, the fashion company was criticized for its description of Timbuktu. Though Timbuktu is the name of a well-known ancient city in Mali, the company, on its website, described it as a “fictional location” that “literally means ‘the middle of nowhere,’ a location that has intrigued mankind for centuries, whether it’s to discover something new or simply escape the everyday.”

In the aftermath of the backlash, the company shut down its website as well as its Twitter and Instagram accounts, BBC reported. The company also contacted Isimi to inform her that it has opened a formal process to waive its ownership of the “Yoruba” trademark.

In the wave of the backlash, however, the IPO explained the registration of trademarks is transparent and people can “challenge the validity of the mark if it is believed that there are grounds to remove the mark from the trade mark register.”

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