Nike offends Pasifika community with tattoo prints

Nike says its Pro Tattoo Tech gear - leggings, sports bras, jump suits and singlets - features designs "inspired by tattoos from the southwest Pacific".
Nike says its Pro Tattoo Tech gear - leggings, sports bras, jump suits and singlets - features designs "inspired by tattoos from the southwest Pacific".
Nike is removing a set of women's sports gear inspired by traditional tatau - tattoos of the Pacific - from its website.

The international sports brand made a cultural faux pas with the women's leggings, which created the appearance that the wearer has a traditional Samoan tattoo, the pe'a, which is reserved for men.

Pasifika blog sites have attracted hundreds of comments since Nike released the Pro Tattoo Tech gear - leggings, sports bras, jump suits and singlets - last week.

Some are unhappy about the use of the designs, which are viewed as sacred.

Others have mocked the women's leggings, calling them manly and inappropriate for women.

A blogger on the One Samoana Facebook page called Nike's use of the tatau an "ugly exploitation of culture".

On, which is organising a petition to stop the sale of the gear, one person wrote: "This reduces [tatau] to patterned tights rather than assigning it the mana it warrants."

Freddie Ika said: "To the outside world it's just a design. But to my Polynesian people, it's sacred."

The Samoan pe'a is a tattoo reserved for men. The intricate lines and colour-blocking are tattooed on to the body using tools made of carved bone or animal tusks. It is a painful process that sometimes takes months to complete.

The malu is the tattoo for women and is a simpler pattern, but just as painful to apply.

Both forms of the tatau are a rite of passage for men and women.

Victoria University Pacific Studies lecturer Galumalemana Alfred Hunkin said he did not support such use of the tatau and would support a campaign to stop the sale of the gear.

Mangere MP Su'a William Sio was tattooed in 1988. He said seeing the pe'a designs on a woman was upsetting.

"It's disturbing. This is a treasure that is held dear to the Samoan community. The patterns have a spiritual meaning that come from one's family and ancestors.

"This just cheapens and belittles all of that. It's a total disregard of cultural protocol."

Manu Samoa rugby legend Brian Lima and former Hurricanes winger Lome Fa'atau are proud wearers of the pe'a.

The tatau has also appeared in more contemporary forms among several sports stars including All Blacks Ma'a Nonu, Ne'emia Tialata, Sonny Bill Williams and wrestler-turned-Hollywood actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Nike said today the range, which was not available in New Zealand, was being removed from and should be gone by tomorrow.

"The Nike tattoo tech collection was inspired by tattoo graphics. We apologise to anyone who views this design as insenstive to any specific culture," the company said. "No offense was intended."

The collection was of a limited run and no additional items would be sold.

Tatau - Pacific tattoos


Pe'a: Traditional Samoan tattoo reserved only for men. Made up mostly of lines and triangular patterns, the tattoo covers the abdomen, buttocks, thighs and ends at the knee.

Malu: Traditional Samoan women's tattoo. Simpler patterns start from the upper thigh to just below the knee.

A Samoan loving the move

I am a Samoan from Samoa and have always admired Pacific people's involvement in the New Zealand fashion industry. New Zealand also has been for a long time a fashion innovator it its own right - not a follower.  So a colleague of mine asked for my opinion about this piece. I had a look at it and concluded, 'I love it'.

I love the design.  And I would encourage the designers not to remove it.  It is art - an expression of one's uniqueness and fusion of cultures in time (tradition and sport).   You can wear it and remove it. I am not offended at all. It is an individual choice. That is my individual opinion and am prepared to defend it. I see the hidden potential here of using such material as a marketing tool for Samoan art.  What a subtle way to market Samoan art and expose it to the world.  There is great potential to it if one really looks at it from a positive perspective. 

The scholar and the member of parliament reference cultural and spiritual value of the tatau. Your arguments are still valid but I consider it archaic and weak. They do not stand with the realities in Samoa and here in New Zealand as I have observed it.  Firstly, there is already a Samoan female who has a "pea".  Secondly, there is already a male (fafafine) who had her/his malu tatooed.  Thirdly, there are already non-Pacific Islanders who have had these traditional tato'os.   Now with these oddities aside,  they certainly do not take away the 'mana' and the significant importance of this traditional art.

It is an inevitable characteristic of a multicultural society like New Zealand to have such change and adaptation of traditions. The old Samoan saying is 'e sui faiga ae tumau fa'avae'.

Please people, lets not get emotional unnecessarily. With the way how sports apparel and 'fashion' is developing, this particular design will be replaced soon by another one anyways. So this is all but a storm in a tea cup. To the designers, never seize to express the uniqueness that is in you.  I love it and would not mind wearing it.