Fashion Industry and Cultural Appropriation: Navigating Sensitivity

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Fashion trends come and go like the seasons, but what about the cultures whose styles we are incorporating into the fashion industry? Navigating culture-based fashion while remaining sensitive to cultural traditions can be a tricky business for fashion labels. In this article, we will explore the complex issue of cultural appropriation in the fashion industry and discuss how to approach the topic in an ultimately respectful manner.

1) The Complexities of Cultural Appropriation in the Fashion Industry

The fashion industry is complex by nature: models, designers, editors, merchants, manufacturers, and consumers reacting in a continuously shifting space. But the fashion industry has a unique layer of complexity due to its long relationship with cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation in the fashion industry occurs when popular culture takes aspects of non-dominant cultures around the world and adopts them as fashion without proper recognition or appraisal of the source, erasing the political context of these pieces in the process. Recently, mainstream designers have come under scrutiny for their choices when it comes to borrowing from other cultures, and their response—or lack thereof—has been widely criticized.

The cycle of cultural appropriation within the fashion industry is difficult to break, largely because of the ever-evolving nature of fashion. There is a constant push to create something new, unseen, or unique—in order to stand apart from the rest. But, in order to bring ideas from cultures into the mainstream they should be acknowledged, appreciated, and treated with respect.

It is the responsibility of fashion professionals to understand the implications of cultural appropriation and value the knowledge of the cultures they are taking from. This could involve researching the context of a piece and ensuring proper recognition, or using resources like museums and galleries with the focus of preserving and highlighting the origin story. The smaller platforms of emerging designers are also great places to discover unique and undiscovered pieces from around the world.

In conclusion, cultural appropriation is a complex area in the fashion industry. If the industry is serious about preserving cultures, the right balance must be struck between respect, recognition, and appreciation, so that the cycle of cultural appropriation in fashion can be broken.

2) A Brief History of Cultural Appropriation in Fashion

Cultural appropriation in fashion has a long and complex history. It is an issue that has been increasingly relevant in recent years, and has sparked an ongoing conversation regarding how to ethically integrate cultures into modern fashion.

The practice has both roots in colonialism and the slave trade. In the mid 19th century, fashionable white American men would approach African American street vendors, who often had to resort to crafting clothing out of used fabric or pelts, to purchase clothing and accessories in order to evoke a ‘savage’ aesthetic.

In the latter part of the 20th century, punk and hip hop cultures were frequently co-opted. Punk grunge was often taken from the subculture and presented with a more commercial aesthetic. Meanwhile, the punk aesthetic was utilized within the mainstream fashion industry, often in a way that irritated the original subculture. Hip hop style was similarly taken and mixed with luxury items as a way of creating something new.

The current wave of cultural appropriation is centered around a more diverse variety of cultures. Native American and indigenous cultural elements, for example, have been co-opted for decades, most notably with headdresses, moccasins, and motifs. East Asians cultures have also been frequently co-opted by the fashion industry, from the popularization of kimonos to the controversial misappropriation of qipao-inspired dress. Furthermore, the incorporation of traditional South East Asian henna designs or bindis has become increasingly common.

Ultimately, cultural appropriation is an ongoing topic which has caused much controversy within the fashion industry. It has led to the emergence of organizations such as the Truth About Fashion Project, which adopts a “people first” approach to fashion. Through considering the stories and contexts behind diverse cultural practices, the industry can work to properly honor and recognize the cultures being represented.

  • The Truth About Fashion Project
  • Punk Grunge Co-Opted
  • Culture Appreciation Instead of Appropriation

3) Alternative Ways to Manipulate Textiles and Create Fashion Ethically

Shopping eco friendly alternatives

Today, environmentally conscious fashion is on the rise. From organic cotton t-shirts to fair-trade brands, there is no shortage of ways to make greener and more ethically sourced fashion choices. Shopping eco-friendly alternatives and supporting sustainable fashion movements are some of the best ways to approach fashion in an ethical and environmentally friendly way.

Thrift shopping

Another great way to approach fashion ethically is thrift shopping. Scouring thrift stores for unique and vintage wardrobe pieces is a great way to reduce waste, while still expressing your individual style. Second-hand shopping not only reduces the burden our textile industry has on our environment, but it’s also a great way to find interesting statement pieces for a budget-friendly price.

DIY clothing repurposing

Finally, for budget-conscious fashionistas, DIY fabric manipulation is a great way to make use of an existing wardrobe and refashion it into something new. Whether it be cutting up old t shirts, or dying old white jeans, manipulating existing clothing is the perfect way to get creative and prevent textile waste. To take it a step further, try refashioning handmade pieces and sewing unique pieces.


With the rise of eco-friendly fashion, ethical fashion has never been easier to get on board with. Shopping eco-friendly pieces, thrifty-shopping for statement pieces, and repurposing and refashioning existing clothing are all great ways to create ethical fashion. So take the plunge today, and get creative with your wardrobe!

4) Designing with Respect: Striking the Right Balance

Good design is essential for creating a product or service that offers a great user experience. But it’s often easy to go overboard in the pursuit of beauty and elegance, and end up sacrificing key elements in the process. That’s why striking the right balance in the design process is so important – forgetting the finer details can have serious consequences.

There’s a long list of elements that need to be taken into account if you want to create a design that’s truly successful. Here are a few of the most important considerations:

  • Usability: Is the experience intuitive and easy to use?
  • Accessibility: Is the interface suitable for users with disabilities?
  • Performance: Is it optimized for speed and reliability?
  • Scalability: Is it designed to work across devices?

In addition, it’s important to remember that design isn’t just about aesthetics. Rather, it’s about helping people accomplish their objectives. If the design isn’t able to deliver on that, then the entire project is likely to fail.

To ensure success, it helps to pay attention to the feedback of end users. After all, real people are the ones who will be actually using the design – so their opinions should be taken seriously.

The most important thing to remember is that design isn’t just about looks. It’s about creating a product that works well, is easy to use, and fulfills the needs of users. That’s why striking the right balance between functionality and aesthetics is so important.

The fashion industry and the complexities of cultural appropriation are topics that should be taken seriously and discussed openly. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and their unique interpretations of clothing and design. As we move forward, we must take an inclusive approach to fashion, continuing to engage in dialogue and nurture a greater understanding of fashion’s cultural roots. Let’s use clothing to make a meaningful statement, embrace the beauty of diversity, and bring people together in style.


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