Tribal prints and native headbands: Fashion's great cultural appropriation controversy
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What would the fashion industry be without a bit of controversy every now and then? If it’s not John Galliano spouting a drunken anti-Semitic rant or Vogue Italia running a trend feature on ‘Slave Earrings’, it’s Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries being openly size-ist. While sometimes unintentional, on occasion designers do deliberately offend, shock or rebel. But while the industry is used to all manner of new and exciting scandals cropping up season upon season, there is one contentious issue that continues to be brought to the fashion forefront. Cultural appropriation (often misreported as alleged racism in fashion; see Vogue’s article ‘Nike Reacts to Racism Claims’) is something that the fashion industry is inarguably guilty of, and the recent example of Nike being chastised for the design of its Pro Tattoo Tech Tights has once again hauled the topic into the headlines, and into debate. The garment in question features a monochrome print which, apparently, bears stark similarity to the traditional Samoan Pe’a male tattoo. Nike swiftly withdrew the item following a petition which described the leggings as a ‘direct violation of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific, and is furthermore in violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ was signed by 750 people, apologising for any accidental offense caused. This case is just one of many; most notably, native headdresses (a festival style favourite) have, in the past few months, been at the centre of scandals involving companies such as H&M and Victoria’s Secret. H&M was forced to pull said headdresses from the shelves of its Canada stores following complaints that the items were offensive to the nation’s aboriginal people, while Victoria’s Secret caused outrage when it sent model Karlie Kloss down the catwalk in November 2012 wearing leopard print lingerie, heels and a floor-length feathered Native American-inspired headdress.
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