She Tried It: Brazilian Designer Accused of Stealing Dashiki-Print Designs from Nigerian-American Label [Updated]

Left, screenshot of the “Ini” swimsuit from Bfyne; Right, A model walks the runway for Silvia Ulson at Miami Swim Week powered by Art Hearts Fashion Swim/Resort 2018/19 at Faena Forum on July 12, 2018 in Miami Beach, Florida.
Photo: Arun Nevader (Getty Images for Art Hearts Fashion)

Updated Wednesday, July 18 2018 at 4:00 PM: Silvia Ulson, the Brazilian designer accused of plagiarizing swimsuits from Nigerian-American brand Bfyne, has released a statement about the controversy.

The statement, which appeared at FashionWeekOnline (FWO), was translated from Portuguese.


In it, Ulson says that her Miami Fashion Week show “is for fun only, usually around the theme of Brazilian pride and culture” and that she doesn’t sell swimwear at those shows. In fact, the only pieces she made were black and white swimsuits that appeared at the beginning and close of the show.

She adds that her inspiration for the show was indigenous Brazilian culture.

“I went to a tribe and spent two days there. That’s what we used for the headdresses,” she wrote (she doesn’t specify which tribe).

“So upon returning from there, I made the black-and-white bikinis that were also shown, and thought it would be interesting to have some bikinis with prints mixing the indigenous paintings that they paint on their body. For the Brazilian Indians, each painting has a meaning,” Ulson continued.

And this, my dears, is where the story gets really wild.

According to Ulson, in order to get this “indigenous” look, she reached out to see if another designer could help. This is where a dude named “Fernando” came in with the designs, which he claimed were his own. (Is “Fernando” the new “my cousin hacked my account?”)


“At first I did not like them,” Ulson tells FWO, “but he told me they were great, and that it would be very important to have these prints so that everything was not black and white.”

Ulson used “Fernando’s” designs in her show, only to have a man claiming he was from France reach out to her and say that the designs were really his.


“At no time did anyone from Bfyne, or anyone giving their full name, contact me” Ulson claims, adding that this unnamed man—the one she says is the original designer of the swimsuits—had her take drawings and photos down from her Instagram.

Had she known that the designs belonged to another brand, she would never have put them in her show, she says.


“I started looking in Google for the name of the pattern, dashiki, and I found many sites that claimed to be the designers of these bikinis, and who were selling them,” Ulson inexplicably concluded.

Of course, the existence of other dashiki print bikinis doesn’t refute Bfyne’s claim, though FWO, unfortunately gives a bit of credence to it by linking to swimsuits by other designers that predate Bfyne’s 2017 collection. Though the suits certainly share the same inspiration, the different colors, patterns, and cuts clearly differentiate the various dashiki-inspired suits.


Furthermore, links to Etsy accounts carrying suits identical to Bfyne’s are also clearly lifted pictures from the brand’s website—meaning Ulson wasn’t the only one trying to give the impression that Bfyne’s work was her own.


Sometimes, discerning where a designer drew inspiration can be tricky. This is not one of those cases.


Brazilian designer Silvia Ulson has been accused of plagiarizing swimsuits for her latest collection from Nigerian-American label Bfyne. The accusations were levelled against Ulson after she showcased her designs at Miami Swim Week on July 12.

As the Huffington Post reports, Bfyne found blatant similarities—and by “similarities,” I mean wholesale lifting of prints, colors and cuts—between their 2017 “Sahara” collection and Ulson’s latest offering.

Left, Screenshot of Bfyne’s “Kenzo” swimsuit; Right, a model walks the runway for Silvia Ulson at Miami Swim Week powered by Art Hearts Fashion Swim/Resort 2018/19 at Faena Forum on July 12, 2018 in Miami Beach, Florida.
Photo: Arun Nevader (Getty Images for Art Hearts Fashion)

“We wanted to bring sexy to dashiki print and change the way the print was being looked at, ultimately transforming it into something no one has ever seen before,” a rep for Bfyne told the Huffington Post. “We live and breathe our culture, and we made it our mission to showcase that through our designs and the dashiki print.”


“It came to us as a complete surprise how another designer is allowed to showcase replicas and claim it as her work during Miami Swim Week,” the rep added, telling the online news outlet that they found out about Ulson’s swimsuits through her Instagram and by former models who saw the show in Miami.

Left, Screenshot of the “Asari Set” from Bfyne; Right, a model walks the runway for Silvia Ulson at Miami Swim Week powered by Art Hearts Fashion Swim/Resort 2018/19 at Faena Forum on July 12, 2018 in Miami Beach, Florida.
Photo: Arun Nevader (Getty Images for Art Hearts Fashion)

What makes this copy-catting even more ridiculous is that Bfyne referenced dashiki prints to incorporate into their swimwear. Not only did Ulson lift those prints, she slapped them on white models and paired them with flowing white “Native” (as in Native American) headdresses.

The headdresses were a motif throughout the entire collection, which Ulson’s (now-deleted) Instagram account implied was inspired by indigenous Brazilian art and culture.


From the Huffington Post:

In the leadup to her presentation, Ulson shared what appear to be inspirational images for the collection on Instagram. The pictures show various color swatches, beading details and images of indigenous people of Brazil wearing traditional headdresses.

“Brazilianness. The Indians used body paint as a means of expression linked to different cultural manifestations in their society,” Ulson wrote in Portuguese in the caption, according to a HuffPost translation. “For each event, there’s a specific type of painting: mourning, hunting, marriage, death. All indigenous ritual is expressed on their bodies in the form of painting, it’s the Indians’ most intense form of artistic expression. The paint is made from urucum [achiote, a red plant], jenipapo [a brown fruit] or babaçu [a Brazilian palm]. Living art!!!”


Girl, how many cultures can you disrespect in one swimsuit collection?

Ulson has yet to speak publicly about the fiasco. But when she does, let’s hope she doesn’t steal her statement from the scores of other designers accused of plagiarizing and appropriating black designers’ work.

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About the author

Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?