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‘Tribal,’‘Boho,’ ‘Mexican-Inspired,’ And ‘Exotic’ Are Fashion Cues For Cultural Appropriation—Here Are Some Examples

Taking inspiration from other cultures has been a trend in the fashion world since time immemorial. Cultural elements can often be found on the runway, “re-interpreted” by the fashion designer’s understanding of the culture she or he’s drawing inspiration from. From Geisha-inspired makeup and kimonos, to “tribal” and Navajo-esque designs, every fashion house has taken images or elements from other cultures to let their creativity run amok. 

Taking or wearing things from a culture that is not your own —especially without crediting or showing respect to the people it belongs to, is appropriation, not appreciation.

instagram @dsquared2

The simplification of a culture and even the violation of a minority group’s intellectual property rights are among some of the serious issues involved around cultural appropriation —not to mention the perpetuation of stereotypes and just the plain disrespect. We went ahead and put together a list of instances in which the dominant cultures in the fashion industry have taken the liberty of “re-imagining” and drawing inspiration from minority cultures for their own gain, just to set a “trend.”

1. Victoria’s Secret misusing War Bonnets —apologizing for it, then doing it again. SMH.

In 2017, Victoria’s Secret sent a white model down the runway in their version of an American Indian War Bonnet. The incident happened 5 years after top model Karlie Kloss famously wore another insensitive “headdress” during the televised show. The company gave a weak apology after the first faux-pas and then proceeded to do it again.

This account of cultural appropriation was especially problematic given that the context hyper sexualized indigenous women. And given that more than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence, the stereotype is a problematic and unhealthy one.

2. Carolina Herrera using the traditional ‘Zarape’ print

twitter @cuauhtemoc_1521

Founded, and formerly helmed by the Latina Carolina Herrera herself, this instance of cultural appropriation was a true shock to Latinos everywhere. The new creative director of the brand, Wes Gordon “took inspiration” from the Serape print originally from Saltillo, Mexico. The collection featured the colorful print and copies of Indigenous Mexican embroidery. Needless to say the people who have created this aesthetic for centuries went uncredited. 

3. Isabel Marant blatantly COPIED a traditional Oaxacan garment —and went as far as to patent it.

twittwe @wendulainelalo

Ok, so this one is especially wild. The French designer known for her “boho-chic” aesthetic was under fire in 2015 for literally COPYING a traditionally indigenous design, typical of Oaxaca. It was reported that the French government had issued a patent document to the authority of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca, to prevent the inhabitants of the municipality from selling their indigenous designs —THEIR own designs, which have belonged to their peoples for centuries. 

The document was said to suggest that Isabel Marant and another French company, Antik Batik, owned the patent to the embroidered blouses —and that the Mexican community of Oaxaca would need to pay copyright fees in order to sell them, which understandably enraged the local people. The two French companies were accused of plagiarism in respect of the embroidered blouses which took inspiration from the country’s artisanal designs.

4. Navajo or “tribal” prints appropriated by Urban Outfitters —and fashion in general.

urban outfitters

In 2016 Urban Outfitters won a trademark case filed against them by the Navajo Nation. New Mexico Federal Judge Bruce D. Black accepted the hipster retailer’s trademark fair use defense, thus approving the company’s decision to brand panties, flasks, and other products as “Navajo.” As the basis to their argument, Urban Outfitter’s explained that the term has “acquired a descriptive meaning within the fashion and accessory market…the fashion industry has adopted ‘Navajo’ to describe a type of style or print.” 

The Navajo Nation is a tribe rich with history and tradition, not to mention they function under their own government, and run a college and a museum on the reservation. Yet somehow, our legal system permits an entire culture to be reduced to a style of print.

5. Chanel’s grossly expensive boomerang

instagram @jefreestar

The boomerang is a tool used by Native Australians, and it dates back to 50,000 years ago. As aboriginal activist, Nayuka Gorrie eloquently put it: “Having a luxury brand swoop in, appropriate, sell our technologies and profit from our cultures for an absurd amount of money is ridiculous and hurtful,” she explained. “If Chanel truly want to respect Aboriginal cultures, the first place they should start is discontinue this product and issue an apology. Perhaps the next step would be supporting existing black designers.” Chanel slapped its logo on it and sold the boomerang for a whopping $1325 dollars. 

6. Mara Hoffman’s “Otomi-inspired” swim collection

credit poppies and ice cream blog

The American swim and beachwear designer “designed” and entire collection —bikinis, coverups and dresses included— using Mexican Otomi embroidery and turning it into a print. The website described the design as a “colorful exotic animal print,” with no mention of the indigenous people who own and have made these designs for centuries. WTF !!! Where is the credit?

The traditional embroidery is handmade by the Otomi people in Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo, and the designs are referred to colloquially as “Tenangos.”

7. KTZ copying an Inuit design.

twitter @museumatfit

The London-based streetwear brand has been accused of stealing and copying indigenous designs more than once. In this occasion, it was a design from a sacred Canadian Inuit garment worn by a shaman. The design was reproduced, altered ever so slightly and released as a part of the brand’s Fall Winter collection of 2015. The famous shaman’s granddaughter complained about the appropriation resulting in the company’s half-assed apology and discontinuation of the product. 

8. Nike “Huaraches”

twitter @runningwatches2

I for one, was surprised that the general mainstream wasn’t screaming cultural appropriation at this, when people didn’t even know how to pronounce the word “huarache” smh.

Nike’s “Huarache” sneakers first of all, look nothing like the pre-Columbian indigenous shoe. The sports brand just stole the name and took Tarahumara runners as inspiration for their shoes —might’ve been nice if they had at least gifted a few pairs to the indigenous runners. You know, after Nike “took inspiration” from their culture, and all. 

9. Michael Kors’ Mexican hoodie copy-cat

twitter @santiagopgm

Some outlets reported that the black and grey hoodie “closely resembled” a Mexican sweater. Um, no, it was pretty identical. The issue was first brought to light when Santiago Perez Grovas, a photographer and architect from Mexico City, posted an image on Twitter which showed him in a sweater that looked just like the Michael Kors one. 

“New collection by MichaelKors that probably costs thousands of pesos…-Sweatshirt that I bought in the market of Coyoacan two years ago for 200 pesos,” he wrote, sharing two images.

10. Everyone at Coachella

twitter @missIsisking

Every year at the festival we see an array of war bonnets, bindis, corn rows and many other cultural references trivialized and used as fashion props. In an attempt at looking “bohemian,” “earthy” or “vintage” —this one’s especially terrible— attendees just end up stealing other peoples sacred elements and identities to parade around while drunk. Don’t be that person.

11. Dsquared2’s “DSquaw” collection

instagram @dsquared2

So, twin designers Dean and Dan, originally from Canada, decided to rip-off Native American designs and send them down the runway. It doesn’t end there though. the title of the collection, “DSquaw,” drew on a derogatory term for Native American women, and the equally offensive description of the runway show’s aesthetic—”the enchantment of Canadian Indian tribes” and “the confident attitude of the British aristocracy”—was posted to the fashion brand’s Facebook.

Dsquared2’s glamorization of colonialism feels particularly off-key considering the headlines about violence against Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. As Canadians themselves, how can two people —and their entire teams— be so tone-deaf?

12. Ralph Lauren’s Native American Ads

twitter @kfor

The clothing brand released an online campaign in 2015 featuring imagery harked back to the Old West. In faded sepia tones, the ad showed a Native American sporting a feathered “headdress” and holding a rifle across his lap. The page read “Western Style” —and our eyes are rolling to the back of our heads rn. 

The tone-deaf ads reduced people, actually no, entire cultures, to mere marketing props. Many called for a boycott. Dr. Adrienne Keene, a postdoctoral researcher and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, wrote in a post for Indian Country Today Media Network that Ralph Lauren had reached a “new low.”

“Ralph Lauren has been doing this my whole life,” Ruth Hopkins, a writer in her 30s who lives on the Spirit Lake Tribe reservation in North Dakota, told The Huffington Post. “He is a repeat offender. Cultural appropriation is apparently his thing.”

An Indigenous Community In Venezuela Celebrates The Return Of A Highly-Scared Stone That Was Taken By A German Artist

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An Indigenous Community In Venezuela Celebrates The Return Of A Highly-Scared Stone That Was Taken By A German Artist

BerlinXplorer / Flickr | AP

Colonialism is alive and well. Look no further than the frequent examples of Europeans, Americans, and others taking property from Indigenous communities around the world in the name of science or art.

The British Museum is full of incredible artifacts and exhibits from around the world – due to its history as a colonial power that pillaged the communities it ruled. Although there is a growing call to start retuning many of the pieces, the museum has failed to take action.

Although it’s not all terrible news. At least one artists has returned a sacred object he took from an Indigenous community in Venezuela back in 1998.

An Indigenous community in Venezuela celebrates the return of a highly-scared stone that was taken from them by a German artist.

The sacred stone returned to its home in Venezuela, more than two decades after it was taken for a public art exhibition in the German capital, Berlin.

Venezuelan state TV showed a large crate containing the 30-ton stone (that’s more than 60,000 pounds) being lifted by a crane from a ship docked at a Venezuelan port – beginning its journey back to the Gran Sabana region. The stone, sacred to Venezuela’s Pemon community, originated in the famous grassland region known for its flat-topped mountains and the world’s tallest waterfall.

The stone’s removal stirred strain between Germany and Venezuela, including protests by tribal members outside the German embassy in Caracas.

It had been displayed among five large stones in Tiergarten Park in Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate and Holocaust Memorial.

Credit: Z.C. Dutka / Flickr

The so-called Kueka stone from Venezuela represented love, according to the artist’s webpage. Other hulking stones collected from around the world in the Global Stones Project symbolized awakening, hope, forgiveness and peace. 

The Pemons believe it represents the story of star-cross lovers, each turned to stone by a deity as punishment for marrying a member of another tribe.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has described the stone as “spiritual treasure.”

President Nicolás Maduro in a nightly TV broadcast welcomed it home, calling it a “spiritual and cultural treasure” at a time when Venezuela and the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. He said the stone will next be trucked to the remote corner of southern Venezuela where it originated. 

“The Kueka stone begins its its journey back to the place it had always been for thousands of years,” Maduro said.

Venezuelan officials said Germany returned it in a “friendly agreement,” as a sign of “goodwill and willingness to respect the peoples’ cultural rights.”

The Kueka stone was taken from Venezuela more than two decades ago to be part of a public exhibition in the German capital.

Credit: BerlinXplorer / Flickr

Bavarian artist Wolfgang Kraker von Schwarzenfeld removed the so-called Kueka stone from Venezuela in 1998. He claimed that the Venezuelan government had given him permission to use it for an exhibition, saying it would symbolize love.

Von Schwarzenfeld’s Global Stones Project brought together five large stones from across the globe, with the others symbolizing awakening, hope, forgiveness and peace.

“I spoke with ministers, indigenous people, managers and the man on the street, and learned about Venezuelans’ ambitions and problems,” von Schwarzenfeld said. “I filed an application and started the project. South of the Orinoco River, I found a red granite boulder to be the first stone for my project.”

The stone’s return marks a solution agreed to by all sides.

Maduro’s government championed the cause of the Pemon community, working its diplomatic relationship with Germany to get the stone back.

Culture Minister Pedro Calzadilla told state television the donation was “illegitimate” because the stone was part of “the cultural patrimony of the (Pemon) community”. Prosecutors are looking into the stone’s removal because “whoever authorized the removal of the Grandmother committed a crime”, he said.

Pemon tribespeople often demonstrated outside Germany’s embassy in Caracas with spears, feather headdresses and banners saying “The Pemon People Want Our Wise Grandmother Back.” The German envoy promised to relay their feelings to Berlin, while telling them it would be no easy task to return the stone. 

German Foreign ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said Berlin wanted a solution “agreed by all sides – Venezuela, the indigenous groups, the artist and the city of Berlin.”

Indigenous Groups In Oaxaca Are Making Their Own Face Masks From Palms And Donating Them To Those Who Need Them Most

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Indigenous Groups In Oaxaca Are Making Their Own Face Masks From Palms And Donating Them To Those Who Need Them Most

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All around the world, masks are in short supply. And as more and more governments require their residents to wear masks whenever they go outside, a mask is a must-have accessory at this point.

In Los Angeles, you won’t be allowed inside supermarkets without one. In Mexico City, you aren’t allowed on the Metro (yes, it’s still running). In some parts of Latin America, you can be fined for simply leaving the house without wearing one.

Thankfully, communities around the world have sprung into action and have started making masks.

A group of Indigenous women in Mexico’s Oaxaca state have started weaving facial masks out of palms to protect their community.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, one group of Oaxaca women are doing good by their community and working to make masks from a local material that grows in abundance across the state – palm fronds.

The women, who normally work as artesanas, are helping impoverished Indigenous communities grapple with the threat of Covid-19. They’re weaving thousands of masks every week because of the scarcity and high-cost of surgical masks.

Images shot in Nochixtlán, a region home to a large Mixtec population, show the women separating the palm leaves into strips and weaving the masks one by one. It’s labor-intensive work but it’s paying off. The vast majority of the communities of Mixteca region, which has high rates of migration, marginalisation and poverty, are dedicated to making handicrafts from palm leaves, such as hats and mats.

“With this mask it is easier because you can wash it the same way, you can reuse it again, on the other hand the other one cannot be washed because it then becomes ugly. It is faster and cheaper, because now the masks are very expensive to buy,” said Serapia Lopez Lopez, one of the artisans.

Not only are they making them for their own community, they’ve also donated 5,000 to other Indigenous groups across Mexico.

Credit: International Indigenous Youth Council / Facebook

As Mexico has struggled to come up with much-needed medical supplies for healthcare workers and the public alike, this group of women are reaching out to help others.

Aside from taking their own time to create valuable face masks for their own community, they’re also sharing the masks with other Indigenous groups across the country. So far the group has donated more than 5,000 masks with plans to donate another 5,000.

Although Mexico hasn’t been hit as hard as much of the world by the Covid-19 pandemic, many say it’s just a matter of time.

So far, Mexico has almost 5,500 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 400 people have died. However, when compared to other countries in the region – especially the United States just to the country’s north – these numbers are low.

However, Mexico’s own health experts admit that due to low adherence to social distancing standards, the country is still on the curve up – meaning conditions will likely get worse before they begin to improve.

Meanwhile, the Zapoteca community is making masks out of traditional Indigenous designs and fabrics.

Credit: Diana Maza / Flickr

A duo in the Oaxacan city of Juchitan, have been creating cubre bocas using the traditional patterned designs of the Zapotec Indigenous community. They’re been able to combat the spread of Covid-19 while also helping support their traditional clothing brand, Gexa Boutique.

Seeing that their business sales were dropping due to the epidemic, they decided to use the fabrics and make the masks that include four protections: a cloth filter, a protective film, a satin cloth and the designed one.

To achieve the masks, the artisans were advised by nurses who guided them in the way and the sanitary measures they should have, which is why they have been acquired even by medical personnel from the Isthmus region.

So far, the couple have made more than 1,500 masks with guidance from the medical community, which is why they’ve even been bought by medical personnel from the region. Each masks costs $30 pesos (about $1.50 USD) and they’re both reusable and washable.