2015 has definitely been the year during which everyone has been addressing problematic race related issues prevalent in our Western culture, and amongst the hot topics has been cultural appropriation within the entertainment and fashion industries. Back in May, there was a frenzy within the black natural hair community after web publication Mane Addicts released an article titled "How-to: Twisted Mini Buns Inspired by Marc Jacobs SS 2015." (Mane Addicts has since deleted the article after severe backlash via social media.) While I am a huge fan of Marc Jacobs, the brand's actions were very problematic, as it used a traditional black natural hairstyle without acknowledging the black community in any way.
This is not the first time that the fashion industry has appropriated a culture, and it probably will not be the last. However, it is important to start a dialogue on this highly relevant and often potentially damaging issue, which has been occurring in the world for decades.
Earlier this year, for instance, people were heated over the fact that Valentino only had white models rocking cornrows on the runway. While I cannot and would not speak for all my fellow minorities, the reoccurrence of this type of appropriation within various industries — but especially the fashion industry — is more than a simple annoyance. Thus, we must educate people on how to appreciate a culture rather than appropriating that culture.
Here are just five ways that brands, designers, retailers, and clothes wearers can appreciate all the wonders other cultures have to offer without belittling the work, history, and talent of those cultures.
1. Everyone Needs To Do Their Research
Do you know why people got upset when Mane Addicts wrote that article, or when Valentino had white models wearing cornrows, or when Katy Perry donned green cornrows with "baby hairs"? It is because African-descended people have been ridiculed over the styles that caucasians in America have now turned "cool" or "trendy." Black hairstyles are deeply rooted in history, and hairstyles such as cornrows and bantu knots have been around since pre-slavery days as a means of keeping Afro-textured hair neat. These hairstyles were created specifically within black culture because we have intrinsically different hair texture from caucasians.
If Mane Addicts and those who believed that Marc Jacobs was the creator of "mini buns" (the proper name for them is bantu knots) had done their research on the hairstyle, they would have found the proper origin and name of the black natural hairstyle.
Hunger Game's Amanda Stenberg created a short video highlighting what cultural appropriation actually is, and signs of being an accidental appropriator. Her video is just a short crash course on what I am discussing, but it is a must watch.
2. Brands Need To Admit When Certain Cultures Inspire Them
Cultural appropriation could easily become cultural appreciation if fashion brands just decided to acknowledge when a certain culture inspires their collections. For example, Marc Jacobs was inspired by the natural hairstyle, bantu knots, for his SS 2015 line, yet he did not publicly make this statement. And in turn, some assumed that he was the creator of the style.
Because neither Jacobs nor a spokesperson for the brand came clean about this simple fact, they are guilty of cultural appropriation. This is just one example of many brands that are guilty of these same actions. Simple cultural acknowledgement would change the entire scenario, y'all.
3. Black Models Should Be Used When Displaying Natural Black Hairstyles On The Runway
I am not saying that I am completely against white women wearing cornrows or other black hairstyles. Nor am I saying that fashion brands should only use African descended women to model these natural hairstyles. What I am saying is that if a fashion brand is completely inspired by a natural black hairstyle and is displaying it in one of their collections on a runway, it would be great to use some black models to display these looks.
If fashion brands utilized black models to showcase these natural hairstyles, they would be viewed as a brand that appreciates black culture rather than one that steals from it.
4. Fashion Brands Need To Admit When They Culturally Appropriate
Just like the five-step program, the first step to recovery is to admit that you have a problem. This is the same for cultural appropriation. When fashion brands or designers admit that they have committed cultural appropriation, people will know that they are making an effort to become educated about minority cultures.
If Marc Jacobs and Valentino finally admitted that they was committing cultural appropriation, the world would probably start believing that their brands were actively educating themselves on the cultures that they shamelessly appropriated in their many fashion shows and ad campaigns. Instead of pretending like they are not wrong, fashion brands need to learn to recognize fault and naiveté.
5. Fashion Brands Should Not Feed Into Cultural Stereotypes
This is the most important detail of learning to appreciate a culture instead of appropriating it. Fashion brands (or anyone, for that matter) should not feed into cultural stereotypes. For example, in March of this year, fashion brand Givenchy also had models rocking "baby hairs" in its runway show.
Like many members of the black community, I side-eyed Givenchy. But I also thought about how Givenchy could have played it out differently. I understand that black culture (as well as other minority cultures) inevitably influences white American culture. But feeding into negative cultural stereotypes is definitely the wrong way to "appreciate" our heritage.
It is quite offensive to touch upon negative stereotypes of a culture, as though the culture were a joke. Not unlike dreadlocks, baby hairs were always deemed "ghetto" or "gross" by the mainstream when the look was just in black communities, but once Givenchy, Katy Perry, and other famous brands began rocking the look, it was deemed "cool" and "chic." After years and years of being a tactic for oppression.
If Givenchy would have properly acknowledged African-descended people and/or used black models to sport the hairstyle, the outcome would have been totally different. Some feel like Givenchy and other fashion brands should not use black natural hairstyles at all, but I do not subscribe to this mentality. I do not have an issue with fashion brands finding inspiration from black culture, but I do have a problem with fashion brands not respecting black culture.