Establish cultural appreciation as standard, not appropriation



Luxury Japanese fashion house Comme des Garçons sent their models down the aisle wearing cornrows during the 2019 Paris Fashion men’s show. Immediately after, the backlash from culturally appropriating the hairdo came rolling in, according to The Independent.

Cultural appropriation is the inappropriate or unacknowledged adoption of cultural elements from ethnicities other than one’s own. Not to be confused with cultural appreciation seeking out members of a culture to learn and broaden one’s perspective cross-culturally cultural appropriation has gained attention from the media, most notably in the world of fashion. Brands are constantly being called out for cultural appropriation within their designs, patterns and models, but high fashion brands tend to avoid the repercussions. With Paris Fashion Week in full swing from Feb. 28 to March 8., high fashion brands need to be held to the same standard as other designers and practice appreciation over appropriation.

Both small businesses and high fashion brands need to stray away from cultural appropriation, unless they want to bear the consequences. In 2017, Sarah Marantz Lindenberg launched her small business NiteCap, which sold headscarves, a clothing item widely recognized as holding cultural value to the African community, according to The Helm. Following the launch, the African-American community labeled Lindenberg as a white appropriator of black culture, thus ending her fashion career. Small businesses aren’t the only brands being called out for appropriation. Victoria’s Secret, an international retail chain, faces backlash year after year for dressing their models in clothes resembling elements of indigenous and African cultures, according to Insider. Both high and small fashion brands are guilty of disregarding the cultural value of clothing for a profit. It is time to hold all companies to a higher standard, as name recognition or “creative vision” is no excuse for misappropriation. 

An easy tactic used by high fashion brands to skip out on the consequences of cultural appropriation is claiming to have educated themselves beforehand. While this may be the truth in some cases, most of the time it is not. Gucci, one of the world’s top fashion brands, released a $790 turban in 2019, according to CNN News. A turban is a clothing item worn by Sikhs around the world for religious reasons and usually sells for three to ten dollars per yard. Immediately, the brand was faced with backlash from the Sikh community who called them out for cultural appropriation, insensitivity and overpricing. Gucci justified their actions by claiming to have properly educated themselves on the significance of the turban beforehand. In reality, if they had educated themselves, they would not have sold such a significant item of Sikh culture nor would have offended the entire community. In the future, if a brand claims to have educated themselves on a product before release, the public should expect nothing but praise, appreciation and a celebration of culture. 

Many claim that cultural appreciation is an unrealistic standard to hold brands to and that any type of cultural inspiration can be offensive, so it is not worth striving for. In reality, this is false. The Brazilian sportswear label Osklen wished to take inspiration from the indigenous tribe Asháninka living in the Brazilian and Peruvian rainforests to create a fashion line, according to The Finery Report. The brand took inspiration from the tribe’s cultural attire and transformed their designs into modern clothing. To ensure the tribe was comfortable with the designs, the brand worked with the tribe through each step of the process and paid them for their time. Oskeln took the right steps towards appreciating Asháninkan culture over appropriating it, and the lack of usual backlash we often see is refreshing. 

Both high fashion brands and small businesses need to be held to a higher standard and practice appreciation over appropriation. A large platform is no excuse for disregarding culture, and educating oneself on the cultural significance before selling a potentially appropriated item is crucial. If small businesses can take the right steps towards releasing appreciated clothing, so can the rest of the fashion world.