Cultural Appropriation in Fast Fashion
I am not a native. I grew up on Abenaki land but learned very little about native nations in my school classes. Even with my modest education, it is clear that tribes have had land and culture stripped away from them for centuries. And, even though we've all heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, imitation can be hurtful. In many industries, intellectual property is fiercely debated and social media provides myriad platforms for misrepresentation and appropriation. Using patterns, colors, and cultures indiscriminately, without careful consideration or permission, does a disservice to the entire fashion industry, where tensions and questions continue to surround indigenous rights and fast fashion.
This tension is not new. Fast fashion in Europe stems from an inability to replicate India's prolific textile production and, in the United States, legislation has had center stage since the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. This Act prohibits the misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian arts and crafts in the United States. This misrepresentation is considered appropriation. Appropriation is the action of taking something for your own use — often without the owner's permission. Acts of indigenous appropriation are not specific to the United States; this is a worldwide phenomenon.
As a consumer, you can still embrace indigenous cultures through the fashion industry. There are many indigenous artists you can support through your purchases and by your appreciation of up-and-coming artists. By recognizing these artists, you make a positive difference in their lives.
Trying to understand a culture different from your own is challenging and can be confusing. Putting effort into understanding another culture can lead to constructive outcomes through dialogue, knowledge, and community building. You do not have to be perfect at recognizing what is appropriation. You do not have to purchase solely from indigenous artists. But, every time you make the choice to research a community, a company, or an artist, you are improving your understanding of the industry and bolstering the livelihood of vibrant communities rather than a box store.