This fall alone, Paul Frank served “Rain Dance Refresher” cocktails at a “Pow Wow”-themed fashion week event, ASOS debuted a “Go Native” Navajo-inspired line with cringe-inducing copy, and Karlie Kloss walked the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show runway in a floor-length war bonnet and not much else. Why are fashion brands so bad at discerning the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation — and, moreover, why don’t they care about putting in enough effort to get it right?
Fashion brands are often quick to apologize after appropriation-related controversy ensues; most recently, Victoria’s Secret released a statement this week “sincerely” apologizing “as we absolutely had no intention to offend anyone.” Apologies are nice and all, but they’re not enough; how is it possible that, in the year 2012, no one at VS thought twice about how Kloss’s “sexy native” get-up might upset people? We could lament (and recently published an article on) how frustrating it is that so many companies clearly don’t feel the need to take the time to do basic research before launching offensive clothing lines and ad campaigns. (And sometimes they veer into illegal territory; remember when Urban Outfitters got in legal trouble for its tacky “Navajo Hipster” line of panties and flasks?) But we’re also interested in how consumers can shop responsibly, since it’s not always so obvious when a company is making a profit off an artificially constructed image of Native American identity.