The trend for African prints has been storming the catwalks for some time now. It has provided opportunities for communities in the developing world to contribute to designs that reflect their culture. However some argue the trend is cultural misappropriation and worry about what happens when it dies out.
Like spots and stripes, ethnic inspired designs are a regular feature of the fashion trend calendar. However, they’re clearly making some people uncomfortable.
Recently Urban Outfitters caused controversy by using Navajo designs. The tribe issued a “cease and desist” letter as they considered it derogatory. Considering the religious significance of the designs it wasn’t probably that clever to feature it on a pair of knickers!
In addition, a post on Treehugger by Ethical Ocean looks at African inspired designs and asks whether they are imperialistic. The conclusion seems to be that its only ok if the use of such designs encourages learning and investment in the developing world.
The trend for African inspired designs has certainly created opportunities for ethical designers to work with communities in the developing world. In addition, they have positioned local artisans in Africa not just a subjects of pity, but as creatives.
The worry however is when the trend dies out. Do we move on, sweeping these artisans in to the gutter? How do we ensure such projects are sustained beyond the trend?
Religious inappropriateness aside, ethnic inspired designs can clearly bring great benefit to communities in the developing world. However they need to be underpinned by solid and sustainable practices. It is not acceptable to use designs from a culture and continue to exploit the country’s workers.
Photo Fashion Conscious