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College students weigh in on cultural appropriation in fashion industry


Throughout the fashion industry, there have been multiple controversies concerning what could be seen as cultural appropriation that certain companies have unfortunately taken part in. 

To analyze how cultural appropriation is present in the fashion industry, multiple college students were interviewed about how they felt about how certain cultures were being represented and how it is inappropriate.

A student from the University of Southern California, Jamilah Mohammed, was asked what examples of cultural appropriation are seen in the fashion industry. 

“The increase in use of bindis, saris, kimonos, in situations not appropriate for these outfits, like music festivals,” Mohammed said.

Many people who attend music festivals use the occasion as a way to dress differently than they normally would, but sometimes people wear garments or accessories that are culturally appropriating. Celebrities and many others have been called out for participating in this.

When asked how the industry can improve, Mohammed continued with her suggestion.

“Diversify the people working in it to avoid ignorance that leads to cultural appropriation,”  Mohammed said.

The idea of diversifying the industry from the inside then working outwards has potential to be very effective. This could also help representation in the media as well. Diversifying people deep in the industry could educate the public and let people be aware about what cultural appropriation is.

Kristina Photopulos, a student from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, was also asked what some examples of cultural appropriation were.

“The use of Native Indigenous peoples’ sacred cultural wear on runways (is an example),” Photopulos said.

One of the ways that the fashion industry presents itself is through runway shows. Well known events, such as New York Fashion Week or Paris Fashion Week, are spotlights for new clothing trends and the use of cultural appropriation could cause controversy since there is a huge audience especially with these events. 

Specifically, the appropriation of Native Indigneous clothing is often overlooked, especially in the United States. Recently, many examples of cultural appropriation have been sparking controversy and people are pushing for change. This issue is not only prominent in the fashion industry, but is also seen with sports teams and sports mascots.

Alexander Potchernikov, a student at Carnegie Mellon University, provided specific examples of big brand clothing companies that have used cultural appropriation in their stores. 

“Big brands wish to seem, (or) make items seem, ‘exotic’ by taking patterns from small native tribes or other groups without representation, cultural accuracy or content, as with Urban Outfitters using Navajo ‘inspiration,’” Potchernikov said.

Calling out big brands for this behavior is a crucial part of progressing towards change. If people are silent, that could lead to normalizing cultural appropriation, which could be harmful to those who are of that culture. 

There is a difference between representation and appropriation. Using one’s culture just for design without being educated is what leads big brand companies to fall into this controversy.

When asked how the fashion industry can improve, Potchernikov went on with some suggestions.

“Apply proper context, get proper representation (stemming from proper consultation), or not using the patterns or designs that don’t reflect the culture appropriately (i.e. do not put it on underwear/bikini when it is intended for specific clothes/garment,” Potchernikov said.

If companies become more educated about the cultures that are often being appropriated, the industry overall would improve and gain much more respect from the public. A part of the reason why fast fashion brands are gaining less and less respect is because they are appropriating cultures and then not addressing the issue when held accountable. Companies in general should be held accountable regardless of their reactions.

When questioned about how the industry can improve, Vanderbilt student, Alyxis Smith, gave her views on the issue.

“Don’t take traditional (or) religious clothing for important events (i.e. wedding style dresses) and market them in a sexual way; include people from that background (or) region in the production and promotion of ethnic clothing; make an effort to educate your consumers on the history of ethnic clothing,” Smith said.

Including people from different cultures in the production of the clothing gives representation to minorities in not only the clothing aspect of the industry but also the business aspect. Taking this action would also build a bigger audience that consists of minorities which is a huge percentage of the world’s population. 

At the end of the day, cultural appropriation should be talked about more often so that more and more people can be educated. If certain companies start taking these actions, then others will follow. 

Minorities deserve to be represented, but using people’s culture for business benefits without any credit is disrespectful.