Some of the most iconic fashion designers have mastered their level of finesse by creatively drawing their inspiration from objects, nature, the world and of course the people who live in it. However, the now so common term in fashion ‘cultural appropriation’ is not quite what we would describe as being a form of inspiration now is it? So what is cultural appropriation and why is it such a big deal?
Amandla Stenberg perfectly sums it up in a video she posted about the history of black hair: “Appropriation happens when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed high fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves.” Sounds a lot like Marc Jacobs having Kendell Jenner and Gigi Hadid wearing dreadlocs at a runway show and this being seen as ‘edgy and cool’. Meanwhile dreadlocs on a person of colour such as Zendaya who wore them on the red carpet at the Oscars are not so appealing according to Guilana Rancic on an episode of Fashion Police, where she made a comment about how the dreadlocs make her look like, “she smells like patchouli oil. Or weed”.
The danger in cultural appropriation is that it takes an aspect of one’s culture and it waters it down to something similar to a prop in a freak show. Most cultural attires or ways of dressing have symbolic meaning and this should not be mistaken for the ‘hottest trend’ without no recognition whatsoever of what it is about and where it is coming from. Culture, however is also fluid and always changing, shifting and adopting aspects from other cultures as well. Therefore it is not to say we should all stick to our own but there are ways in which the fashion industry could avoid being tacky and distasteful in this regard.
It seems many fashion designers who appropriate often do not fully understand cultures that they are appropriating from, or are not willing to actively engage with them and this proves to be disastrous as the results of their so called creations are misguided and objectively offensive. This could be avoided by not only fully acknowledging the culture as well as the people that inspired the designs. But in addition to this, also looking beyond harmful stereotypes, actively engaging with people within the cultures to gain a comprehensive understanding of their roots and even going as far as collaborating with artists of that culture to co-create designs. This way, the community is involved and has a say in how they would or would not like to be represented and most importantly also ensures that folks get their coin.