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Let’s Talk Cultural Appropriation

A couple of years ago I was very kindly called in for using an inappropriate and culturally appropriated term to define a garment of clothing I was wearing.  I shared and posted this outfit above and used the word Kimono to refer to the flowy cropped cardigan I’m wearing.  As this piece was manufactured by a huge, fast fashion business, and I, a White woman, am wearing it and referring to it as a Kimono, it is problematic all around.  So why is this harmful?  A Kimono is a powerful symbol, and traditional garment of Japanese culture.  I encourage you to read more about it’s significance and how we need not claim this sacred garment for our own.  Please read this written by @littlekotoscloset.  This item I am wearing is NOT a Kimono.  I can call it a duster, a cardigan, a robe, a layering piece, but it is not a Kimono.  I learned this lesson, and changed my vocabulary instantly and permanently.  However, I have worked with, shopped with, and tagged brands that still refer to garments like this as Kimonos.  That is the change in action I will take going forward.  This is how I can do better.

If you’re unclear about what cultural appropriation is, or if this is all new information to you, don’t be embarrassed, or defensive.  We are here to learn, grow, and do better.  This is why I’m sharing some of my own personal learning moments as a starting point.

Let’s start with the definition of Cultural Appropriation: {Cultural appropriation is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures. ~ Wikipedia }

About 10 years ago, I was downtown shopping with one of my girlfriends.  We walked into a shop and saw a moccasin display.  I was so excited to see an Indigenous, Canadian brand being available at a major shop that carried multiple brands.  I jumped at the chance to grab myself a pair.  About a year ago I received an email from this moccasin company asking me to collaborate.  I was thrilled!  I always do research on a brand before I work with them, so I popped on over to their website to read all about their history.  Then the confusion set in.  This wasn’t a Canadian brand.  This wasn’t even an Indigenous owned brand.  It was an American, white owned business that has been around since the 70’s.  WTF???  I then realized that that beloved pair of moccasins I bought 10 years ago, was a case of mistaken identity.  While my intentions were good, I had got this brand mixed up with a Canadian moccasin company that is Indigenous owned.  If I could go back in time, I would have not impulse purchased this item. I would have done the research first, and then opted to not purchase them.   So back to that email from the brand.  Once I realized who they were and their business practices, I decided to take the opportunity to ask them some questions rather than just politely declining the collaboration.  I asked them what they do to give back to their local Indigenous communities.  I asked how many Indigenous peoples they employ and how many Indigenous artists they pay and work with.  I received a very PR prepared statement back, saying they were currently looking for ways to give back to local Indigenous communities and that they are committed to doing better.  A year later, I saw others asking the same questions I did, and the same PR answers being given.  It seems pretty clear, they are not committed to change.

So, is it appropriate to wear items like moccasins?  As I have learned, if those moccasins were made by, and the money goes to an Indigenous owned brand or maker, then yes.  We should absolutely be supporting Indigenous owned and made products and businesses.  If you have bought that item and a major retailer, chances are it is appropriation and you need to do some digging into this product.

floral duster

I have a diploma in Fashion Merchandising.  I went to school here in Vancouver in 2001 & 2002.   In our program, we were taught all about the different influences fashion can have.  One term taught was Chinoiserie.  { definition: // Chinoiserie is the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and other East Asian artistic traditions, especially in the decorative arts, garden design, architecture, literature, theatre, and music. The aesthetic of Chinoiserie has been expressed in different ways depending on the region. ~ Wikipedia }  Fashion is a huge part of this.  We were shown example after example of major White fashion designers and brands using Asian and other cultural “influence” in their designs.  These examples were not shown in a lesson about cultural appropriation, they were shown as an acceptable part of the fashion industry.   THIS is what the core of cultural appropriation is.  White people stealing from different cultures for their own profits and/or benefit.  Need examples?  Read this article here, that shows a timeline of examples, including many repeat offenders.

This post is long overdue.  I should have shared my new knowledge with all of you right when I, was so kindly, called in to do better.  I should have then, stopped supporting brands who use terms like Kimono to describe their clothing items.  And to be clear, it is not only fast fashion brands doing this.  Its ethical and sustainable brands, it’s local boutiques, it’s Etsy shops, it’s local makers.  If any brands or makers are reading this, please rename your items. This will only take away some time for you.   However continuing to use cultural terms to define trends, takes away from the people’s who’s heritage you are, most likely unknowingly, exploiting for personal gain.

We can all do better.  I’ve gone back to 2014 to edit and rename garments in previous blog posts.  I’ve gone through my Instagram page and made edits too.  The learning will never end.  Let’s all commit to when we know better, we do better.

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