The fashion retailer, Timbuktu, in hot water for trademarking the phrase, Yoruba

Lawsuits and controversies aren’t new to the fashion industry but what makes this story interesting is that it involves an ethnic group — Yoruba people — that inhabit the western part of Africa mainly Nigeria, Benin and Togo.

This isn’t the first time words/phrases related to a language/location — Canadian, English, Welsh, Swahili, Africa, Portugal, and Brazil — has been trademarked, and I want you to think deeply whilst carefully reading this article before passing a judgement.

The British outerwear clothing retailer — Timbuktu — became a target of criticism when Gbemisola Isimi — CultureTree founder — experienced difficulties whilst trying to register her own phrase (Yoruba Stars). The challenges she faced was due to its similarity with an already registered phrase — Yoruba — by Timbuktu.

Yoruba Stars is one of the programmes developed by CultureTree to teach children the Yoruba language, and it has children ranging from the ages of 18months to 13years who also call themselves Yoruba Stars. This led to the process of registering the phrase.

Based on the information obtained from the website of the UK’s Intellectual Property Office, Timbuktu limited is said to be the owner of the phrase, Yoruba, and it was filed on November 17, 2015, and the application was published on December 4, 2015. The phrase was registered on Feb 19, 2016, and its renewal date was stated as Nov 17, 2025. The trademark number is UK00003136476.

Also, I realized that others that tried registering similar phrases — Yoruba Nation, Yoruba Toys, Yoruba Week, The Yoruba Shop — had their applications fall into various categories such as; refused, application published, under examination and withdrawn. In the case of the phrase, Yoruba Stars, which was filed by CultureTree on 17 November 2020, the current status shows the application was opposed.

CultureTree made this information known to the public two days ago (May 23, 2021) via its Twitter account and it has already been retweeted almost 9,000 times, generated more than 5,000 likes and has 386 comments has at the time of writing this article.

Image Source: Twitter (CultureTree)

This issue has generated negative publicity for Timbuktu and repairing the company’s image might be a daunting task. The description of Timbuktu — a place in Mali — as the middle of nowhere has also contributed to the Twitter outrage and the trending hashtag ‘#Yorubaisnotforsale’, the displeasure of netizens could have been the reason why Timbuktu deactivated its account. Also, a search of the company’s website yielded no result.

Image Source: Twitter (Timbuktu)

To some people, this is being seen as cultural appropriation, others do not think it’s wrong or should generate so much attention.

After much thinking, these are my questions to you;

  1. What’s in a name?

As usual, the Dartemuv team just want to say thank you for reading this article and we hope to bring you more…

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