When is Appreciation In Fact Appropriation? An Op-Ed by Sophie Dyer
Cultural appropriation is something that has always existed in society. For as long as creatives sought inspiration, it’s only natural that sometimes they look outside of their own culture to find something new and be excited by. However, the dialogue around what is acceptable has been heightened since social media and the internet have allowed references and sources to be more quickly checked and sourced, including the Instagram account Diet Panda, which highlights systemic copycatting within the fashion industry.
With many instances of celebrities and brands causing offence by appropriating culture merely as a fashion statement, the discussion around whether something is appropriation or appreciation has never been more relevant.
A recent panel: Appreciation Vs. Appropriation in Fashion at The Hox Holborn, chaired by Katie Rawle, Business Development Manager at The British Fashion Council with Leyla Reynolds, Art Director of Galdem Magazine, Royce Mahawatte from Central St Martins, and CEO of Fashion Roundtable Tamara Cincik, explored the ever changing attitude towards appropriation and the structural hierarchy behind it through a fashion perspective.
Clearly, creative directors and their teams need to continue to be held accountable for poor taste. Whether intentional or not, using another culture to make money or create shock value, with a lack of understanding of the references being used, is not an excuse. POC need to be at those tables and their perspective over certain creative choices need to be valued more than just tokenism. As Tamara said: “If Gucci are putting turbans on people who have no relation to that and not even having a conversation about that, then who is within that structural hierarchy and what are they doing about their hiring policies?”
But it’s hard to get it right. Is there a fear around what can be deemed as appropriation could potentially lead to creative censorship? When asked, the panel and guests struggled to find one brand who they knew were doing diversity well but when asked about brands that were guilty of cultural appropriation the list was eye opening long.
Although defining whether a creator’s intentions are appropriation or appreciation continues to be difficult, (particularly in industries that encourage creative thinking), a few key take aways were these:
- Be aware of how the trend you’re trying to champion as a fashion statement has impact. Will it affect others who have been previously negatively stereotyped by those attributes you’re showcasing? Or what emotion does your fashion trend conjure up to those who are a part of that culture? Is it hurtful? Is it disrespectful? Is it worth it? And what are you really trying to achieve?
- POC are frequently used for their creativity, art and culture, if you are going to seek inspiration from them accredit them accordingly, give the recognition and pay they rightly deserve.
- What would it take for brands to appreciate rather than appropriate? If you are truly appreciating a culture give back to those communities.
- Surround yourself with a diverse team because you value what they have to offer, not just because you want to fill a diversity quota.
As long as the hierarchy continues to be dominated by the same type of demographic, the understanding on whether a decision is appropriation or appreciation will be limited. Therefore, discussions around appropriation vs appreciation need to continue to be had, no matter how uncomfortable they may seem.