Don’t Use Culture to Sell Fashion

Don’t Use Culture to Sell Fashion

Every fashion line has a source of inspiration. Even Will Ferrell’s character, Mugatu, in the 2001 blockbuster Zoolander fashions “derelicte” after “the homeless” and “the vagrants” (This is actually a parody of then-Christian Dior designer John Galliano’s Spring 2000 “hobo-chic” line).

But this fall’s latest inspiration became controversial when retailers, and subsequently fashion magazines started using “Navajo” as a descriptor of clothing, accessories and trends. The Navajo are a Native-American tribe originating from the southwest.

The controversy: Navajo is a culture—not a fashion trend!

On Columbus Day this year Sasha Houston

Brown, a member of the Santee Sioux Nation, wrote an open letter to Urban Outfitters and its CEO, Glen T. Senk questioning the use of the Navajo label on items such as the “Navajo Hipster Panty.” By the end of the day Urban Outfitters renamed all 21 products that had used the Navajo descriptor.

The most recent culprit of this fashion gaffe is Forever 21. The affordable-yet-trendy chain was recently caught selling necklaces with charms picturing stereotypical Native American and Asian girls. It was quickly discovered that the imaging was not the only controversial aspect of the necklaces: the charm necklace featuring an Asian girl was called “Oriental Girl Necklace.” Currently, these necklaces cannot be found on the Forever 21 website.

The fashion industry is beginning to tread into cultural inspiration, which is acceptable. But defaming a culture, turning it into an adjective and labeling items with these desensitized modifiers is appalling.


Gerilyn Manago


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