When the Navajo Nation sued apparel retailer Urban Outfitters for using its name on a line of products with geometric prints, including flasks and panties, the community sent a message about how the fashion world is appropriating native cultures into trendy gear -- but not all companies seem to get the point.
See also: Urban Outfitters Pulls Navajo Name from Collection; Heard Museum Weighs In on Native-Inspired Fashion That Should Be Produced See also: Beyond Buckskin: Jessica R. Metcalfe Expands Her Native Fashion Blog into an Online Shop
Sanrio just launched a new look for its popular Hello Kitty using "Aztec" to describe a turquoise and diamond-themed accessories that looks scarily similar to the UO disaster from last year.
Other companies treading the line include: - an 'Aztec' collection from Whitney Eve (yes, one of the girls from The Hills) - 'tribal' collections from Forever21 and Target - Ecko's 'Weekend Warrior' line - Native inspired fashion at No Wire Hangers - numerous current products at Urban Outfitters including its 'printed' line and the now unavailable Staring at Stars Skull Headdress Oversized Tee - and Black Label Boutique's Navajo line
Native bloggers including Adrienne Keene (Native Appropriations) and Dr. Jessica Metcalfe (Beyond Buckskin) use social media to point out some companies still marketing controversial lines and products -- and to explain why it's a problem.
"This huge company is using this catchphrase 'Aztec,' right now, to make sales, to profit off of indigenous communities who have suffered so much in the past 500 years and none of it's going back to the community and it's actually misrepresenting the community," says Metcalfe, who is Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota and earned her Ph.D. in American Indian Studies through University of Arizona. "When you're targeting a younger audience and you knowingly tack a name onto an item that is not correct, you are continuing perpetuating miseducation."
Ecko and Forever21 are using more generic terms like 'warriors' or 'tribal,' but Black Label Boutique continues to sell Navajo collections online. Leene explains why this is an issue:
"[The fashion] takes something thought that is considered incredibly sacred and important and powerful in communities, and really trivializes that and attempts to take away its power by saying that it's something that anyone can have access to and anyone can walk around and wear at any time," Keene says. "Really, it's something that should be reserved for well respected leaders and people who have earned the headdress."
Keene and Metcalfe both say there are still ways for designers to weave Native inspiration into their work and that a solution might be incredibly simple: conversation.
"If these companies that are using disrespectful imagery had talked to one Native person they probably would have rethought the way that they're doing things," Keene says. "It goes back to that idea of us just being invisible in most peoples eyes, that wouldn't cross most people's minds if they're designing a line that has native influences that they should talk to some real living native people. and so I think that's where it needs to start is the conversation."
Keene points out that success stories exist when companies like Nike have avoided public relations nightmares and found popular support instead by consulting with Native designers and athletes to create its N7 line.
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"I am starting to see this shift and this change around discussing issue of cultural appropriation, specifically in fashion, so I'm hopeful that this is a conversation that this is going to continue and that things will continue to improve and change," Keene says.
Giving people and companies the chance to connect directly with Native people, including designers who want to collaborate, is the idea behind projects like Metcalfe's recently launched Beyond Buckskin Boutique which aims to promote the work of Native designers both to companies and directly to the public.
"These designers exist, they're really talented, very creative and if you want to do something with the 'new trend,' collaborate with a native artist," Metcalfe said. "It'll add so much to your collection as opposed to just recycling the same crap over and over again."