March 18, 2011

Are Native-inspired fashions okay?

Culture Clash:  Native-made vs. Native-inspired

By Lisa CharleyboyThere’s a buzz in the air these days about cultural appropriation, especially given the recent fashion trend toward all things Navajo. I think we’re seeing the strongest mainstream trend toward Native-inspired fashion since the ‘70s, when hippies embraced turquoise, headbands and (of course) Navajo patterns. Then, as now, it’s hard to know exactly what non-Natives are getting out of these fashions. Do they desire authentic spiritual engagement—or do they just think feathers and leather look cool?

I hear from many people in our community who don’t believe that anyone should be inspired by Native American culture for the purposes of fashion, but I disagree. First, I don’t think we ought to be militant about what is, after all, merely clothing. (If we’re talking about misuse of sacred symbols and artifacts, that’s different.) The beauty of our rich cultures cannot be expressed in just one way. Additionally, I think that the great interest in all things Native provides significant opportunities for our artists to appeal to a broader audience, which can ultimately lead to economic profitability and sustainability.
Comment:  I think most of the complaints are about 1) misuse of sacred symbols and artifacts, which Charlyboy admits is wrong. 2) stereotypical elements such as beads and fringe, especially when designers lump all Native cultures into one. And perhaps 3) profiting from Native people without acknowledging the source. I don't think many Natives are complaining about cultural appropriation if it's not sacred, not stereotypical, and not a ripoff.

For more on the subject, see Ashton Kutcher Goes Native, Fashion Line with a Native Touch, and Pendleton Spreads Native Designs.

Below:  "The Geometric Shield Ring by Fortune Favors the Brave is Native-inspired; the Sunburst ring by Maria Samora is Native-made. Can't we all just get along?"

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