Cultural Appropriation: How Big Brands Inspire and Benefit from Traditional Handcrafted Items
In this article, we focus on perceptions on the “Bihor, not Dior” campaign through an online survey conducted on the questia.ro platform. The research study was active between July 17th and July 18th, 2018 and covered 1001 respondents, with a +/- 4% margin of error when reported to the Romanian online population.
The buzz around big fashion houses started when it was reported that some of the big brands are not socially responsible with their around the world workers. This social responsibility can be translated into poor working conditions, low wages, flexible contracts, employment of minors, harassment and discrimination, to name a few. The majority of garment workers are women and it is reported that they “are desirable in the garment industry because employers take advantage of cultural stereotypes”. They cannot improve their working conditions nor speak about the abuses they face.
The Guardian’s article states that leading brands should do more for the people making their clothes such as listening to women’s perspectives, ensuring a living wage and protecting migrants and refugees.
However, recently, a new subject started buzzing on the internet: famous fashion houses that imitate traditional clothing items and present them as new pieces in their collections. The matter is also known as cultural appropriation and is defined as “when a dominant culture adapts elements from a marginalized culture and uses it outside the original culture’s context – often without credit or against the wishes of the said culture”.
One such example was when Dior’s designer, John Galliano, showcased throughout the years native American attires and Japanese and tribal pieces.
Gucci, as well, used references to the European Renaissance, the ‘70s and ‘80s. The media started wondering if the brand copied Dapper Dan as Gucci’s collection closely resembles a 1989 piece by the Harlem tailor Dapper Dan. It is reported that the brand was criticized by famous publications such as Teen Vogue for not giving credit to the original designer. However, this is not the only case in which Gucci was accused of cultural appropriation. Its fall collection displayed turbans that looked really similar to those of the Sikh community, but in Gucci’s collection, they were worn by white models only.
Another scandal occurred when H&M displayed on its website and African-American boy wearing a sweatshirt that had the following print on it: “Cutest monkey in the jungle”. The brand apologized, removed the image from all online channels and excluded the item from their products.
Other examples include the case of Victoria’s Secret when it presented a native American headdress and leather lingerie at its 2012 fashion show and Chanel who created an accessory by inspiring from a boomerang used by long marginalized Aboriginal Australians (and sold it for almost 2k dollars). One of the latest fashion figures accused of cultural appropriation was Zuhair Murad who incorporated Native American imagery in his collection. Huffington Post reports that he used feathers, details and accessories in a way that looked like “an outsider’s view of many Indigenous cultures”.
Romanians experienced something similar when Dior showcased in its 2017 pre-fall collection items that looked really similar to the traditional clothes handmade and worn by the people from Bihor, a small region from Romania where authentic traditions are still alive. The locals are very proud of their cultural legacy and still handcraft the heirloom traditional clothes.
Dior is selling the coats for 30.000 Euros but none of the earnings will go to Bihor’s community as the brand didn’t credit them as their source of inspiration.
In order to fight against this case of cultural appropriation, Beau Monde, Romanian’s fashion magazine, launched a campaign called “Bihor Couture” in order to support the Romanian authentic design. On the official website, it is stated that “Bihor Couture is an authentic Romanian brand with local craftsmen as designers. It was created to help local creators sell their clothes and continue their craft.”
This way, fashion enthusiasts have the opportunity to wear authentic handmade clothes that were purchased at much smaller prices (the coat that Dior sold for 30k Euros costs only 500 Euros on Bihor Couture’s website). The good thing is that the money actually goes to the local community and support them into continuing preserving these handcrafting traditions and help the local authentic clothing survive.
Most brands tend to name these collections “cultural exchanges” while many thinks that the only ones benefiting from this exchange are the multibillion-dollar fashion houses, not at all the local communities. The question is whether these brands are entitled to benefit from these practices of cultural appropriation.
“To distinguish harmful misappropriation from positive inspiration, I use a rule of three Ss: source, significance and similarity”, says Susan Scafidi, founder of the Fashion Law Institute and author of “Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law”. She proposes an examination of how oppressed and historically disadvantaged the source communities are and whether the imitated item is of great importance for the local culture. “From Matisse to Giacometti, to Yves Saint Laurent all creating new historic work inspired by Africa to Jeremy Scott for Moschino transposing cultural pop icons into fashion and accessories, the recycling of cultural signifiers is nothing new.”
As an example of good practice comes the Brazilian luxury brand, Osklen’s 2016 spring collection, for which they collaborated with the Amazonian tribe it referenced, the Asháninka, showing how “cultural appreciation” is done.
Some experts wondered whether there is a formula for fixing the appropriation issue. It appears this is a complex topic and the best solution is to completely change the cultural practices of the brand/company, by being sensitive to cultural, ethnic and racial differences.Results
We asked respondents what types of food and non-food products they use to buy. Most (68.7%) use both local and international products while over a quarter (28.6%) prefer only traditional products.!(/content/images/2018/07/Chart-1.png)
People prefer traditional products over the international ones because local goods are more natural, more qualitative and this is also a way to support the local economy. We approached this subject in one of our previous articles regarding how responsible are Romanians in their shopping behaviour.!(/content/images/2018/07/Chart-2.png)
We then focused on the awareness for the “Bihor, not Dior” campaign. It seems that the awareness was not that high among respondents as only a little over a quarter (30.4%) heard of it.!(/content/images/2018/07/Chart-3.png)
Bihor Couture states that "For years, big fashion houses have been using inspiration from local cultures. Lately, this has turned into a global phenomenon, with names like Tory Burch, Valentino or Louis Vuitton presenting original traditional designs from all over the world as new items in their collections".
We decided to see what respondents think about this statement and to what extent they agree to big fashion houses’ practice of presenting traditional clothing items from local cultures as new items in their collections. The tendency here is for disapproval of these practice with a little over half of the users (51.3%) not agreeing at all or agreeing to a small extent.!(/content/images/2018/07/Chart-4.png)
It was reported that Dior sold the coat with 30.000 Euros. More than half of the users (57.9%) believe that the price for this purchase was too high, while almost one quarter (24.9%) thought it was the right price. These last ones are also supportive of the way fashion houses present original traditional designs as new items in their collections, with 59.5% of them agreeing to a great and very great extent with the statement presented above.!(/content/images/2018/07/Chart-5.png)
We also showed them the presentation video Beau Monde magazine created in order to support the local traditions from Bihor. They created Bihor Couture, a brand which sells authentic handmade items from Bihor at much affordable prices.
Over three-quarters of respondents (75.7%) thought that the new brand, Bihor Couture, is a good initiative.!(/content/images/2018/07/Chart-6.png) The great majority of the respondents (93.2%) agrees to a great and very great extent that fashion houses should offer some credit and support local manufacturers by mentioning them as an inspiration source for their items. Also, 89.5% tend to agree with the fact that big fashion brands should return some money back to the poor communities which they have inspired from. Respondents also tend to agree with the fact that fashion brands should be held accountable for these kinds of practices, but with a lower extent compared to the previous statements. However, there seems to be a tie for the last two statements. 52.3% of users agree with the fact that due to these kinds of practices, traditions are lost while 56.7% of them believe that fashion houses have the right to inspire themselves from traditional clothing items of the various communities. !(/content/images/2018/07/7_2.gif)
<blockquote class="bq3"> <p>Originality consists in returning to the origin</p> </blockquote>
- Antoni Gaudi
- Antoni Gaudi
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