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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.”

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Brazil’s Remote Indigenous Communities Are At Risk Of Covid-19 After Healthcare Workers Test Positive

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Brazil’s Remote Indigenous Communities Are At Risk Of Covid-19 After Healthcare Workers Test Positive

Michael Dantas / Getty Images

The Coronavirus pandemic has been ravaging Brazilian cities for months. In fact, Brazil is number two in the world when it comes to both deaths and infections. Cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have struggled to carry on as much of the economy and the health care system has collapsed. Many have attributed these dire conditions as consequences of President Bolsonaro’s failed policies.

Now, Brazil’s remote Indigenous communities are facing a similar crisis – although one that could be even worse thanks to a severe lack of access to medical care. A team of medical workers sent to protect the country’s native populations has actually done the opposite – as more than a thousands workers test positive for the virus and have spread it among remote tribes.

For months, as the Coronavirus tore through Brazil, Indigenous tribes across the vast country have tried to protect themselves by strictly limiting access to their villages. Some have setup armed roadblocks and others have hunkered down in isolated camps.

But it appears that all of that may have been in vain. According to interviews and federal data obtained by The New York Times, the health workers charged by the federal government with protecting the country’s Indigenous populations may be responsible for spreading the disease in several Indigenous communities. More than 1,000 workers with the federal Indigenous health service, known as Sesai, have tested positive for Coronavirus as of early July.

As news of the infections spread across the villages, communities became alarmed. “Many people grabbed some clothes, a hammock and ran into the forest to hide,” said Thoda Kanamari, a leader of the union of Indigenous peoples in the vast territory, home to groups with little contact with the outside world. “But it was too late, everyone was already infected.”

Health workers say they have been plagued by insufficient testing and protective gear. Working without protective equipment or access to enough tests, these workers may have inadvertently endangered the very communities they were trying to help.

Now, news of the region’s first deaths linked to the virus have started to emerge and there’s fear it will get much worse.

Credit: Tarso Sarraf / Getty Images

The remote villages that dot the Amazon region have also started to report their very first deaths linked to Coronavirus. Despite raging out of control in Brazil’s cities, remote Indigenous villages have faired quite well. That’s all beginning to change.

The Amazon region, which Brazil’s government says is home to greatest concentration of isolated Indigenous groups in the world, is now seeing an outbreak of Covid-19 – one that many fear will be hard to stop. Experts fear the new coronavirus could spread rapidly among people with less resistance even to already common diseases and limited access to health care, potentially wiping out some smaller groups.

So far, more than 15,500 Indigenous Brazilians have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, including at least 10,889 living in protected territories, according to Instituto Socioambiental, an Indigenous rights organization. At least 523 have died.

The alarming news comes as Brazil continues to struggle in its response to the pandemic.

Credit: Michael Dantas / Getty Images

With nearly 2.1 million confirmed cases and more than 80,000 deaths, as of July 22, Brazil’s Covid-19 catastrophe is the world’s second worst, after the United States.

And now an illness that has ravaged major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo is at risk of spreading unchecked in some of the county’s most vulnerable communities. Health care workers, Indigenous leaders and experts blame major shortcomings that have turned Brazil into a global epicenter of the pandemic.

Robson Santos da Silva, the Army colonel at the head of Sesai, defended the agency’s response during the pandemic, and brushed off criticism as “a lot of disinformation, a lot of politics.”

Complicating the outbreak in Brazil’s remote villages (and even in the large cities) is that tests have been in short supply and often unreliable, which means some doctors and nurses with asymptomatic or undiagnosed cases have traveled to vulnerable communities and worked in them for days.

Criticism of President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, within Indigenous territories and beyond, is mounting.

Brazil has largely struggled to contain the pandemic thanks to the policies of its populist right-wing president who has denounced the pandemic as nothing more than a “little flu.” Within a couple of months of the initial outbreak, Bolsonaro lost two health ministers – who were physicians – and replaced them with an Army general who has no experience in health care.

And the backlash to Bolsonaro’s failed policies seems to be growing. Early this month, a judge on Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered the government to redouble efforts to shield Indigenous people from the virus by coming up with a comprehensive plan within 30 days and setting up a “situation room” staffed by officials and Indigenous representatives.

More recently, another Supreme Court judge generated consternation in the Bolsonaro administration by warning that the armed forces could be held responsible for a “genocide” over their handling of the pandemic in Indigenous communities.

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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.”

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