Appropriation without appreciation: African clothing without African models

Fashion designer accused of cultural appropriation after premiering her Spring 2018 clothing line.

Models walk in the Spring 2018 Stella McCartney show. McCartney is accused of cultural appropriation for having Ankara print in her show. Credit: Yanis Vilamos/ Indigital.tv
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Another designer is in the hot seat with the fashion community for cultural appropriation.

Stella McCartney debuted her Spring 2018 clothing line during Paris Fashion Week. This unveiling included eco friendly clothing that came from recycled materials and clothing and accessories that were manufactured without harming animals.

One thing in particular stood out to her audience. Ankara print, which originates from Dutch and Indonesian wax prints and 19th century African clothing, was featured in her runway show.

When Ankara print is worn by those that are not of African descent, the term “cultural appropriation” is often used.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements from one culture and used by another. Some McCartney fans saw the photos and took to Twitter, criticizing McCartney’s use of the African adopted Ankara print.

Only one woman of African descent appeared in the runway show.

Nyasha Gwashavanhu, a fashion enthusiast, said she pays close attention to Fashion Weeks around the world looking for new trends. She said she was not surprised by what she saw on the runway during McCartney’s show.

“The sad part is they share our culture with the world and don’t give us credit,” Gwashavanhu said. “Something like this happens every fashion week, they make money off of cultures that they know nothing about.”

Models for the Ashli James Collection, Spring 2014. This collection featured Ankara printed dresses, shirts, jackets, and more.Credit: Nakeshia Wright

Ashli James, a fashion designer from Montgomery County, released a clothing line with Ankara print in early 2014. Unlike McCartney’s Spring 2018 line, James received great feedback from her launch of the Ankara line. The difference between the designers is that James is African-American.

She said that McCartney’s efforts to include Ankara print missed a huge opportunity to execute this message to the rest of the world during her October show.

“As an African American designer, I think it’s great that mainstream designers are bringing attention to these beautiful fabrics, but it’s important to have people that represent [the style] on the runway,” she said.

While cultural appropriation happens on the runway, American University is taking steps to make sure students on campus are educated about other cultures. The University recently announced its launch of African-American and African Diaspora Studies as a major on its campus.

The major will give students a chance to learn about the history of African culture and understanding creative ways to see the world through the black communities eyes, according to Associate Professor Theresa Runstedtler.

The goal with this major is to reach not only the black students and raise their consciousness, but the white students as well, Runstedtler said.

“We hope that we can do a little bit of that consciousness raising, particularly among white students who come in  and want to take classes, but also among black students who want to understand why it is that these forms of appropriation happen,” she said.

Though McCartney was the focus last week, this isn’t the first time the black community expressed their concerns about a white designer or brand trying to profit from their culture.

Below is a list of designers that have had similar issues in the past:

Stephane Jaspar, Stella McCartney’s chief marketing officer, told fashionista.com the prints were not made to offend anyone, but to commend the original culture and its beauty.

“The prints were about celebrating a unique textile craftsmanship, its culture and highlighting its heritage. We designed the prints in collaboration with Vlisco in the Netherlands, the company that has been creating unique Real Dutch Wax fabrics in Holland since 1846 and helps maintain its heritage,” Jaspar told the online fashion magazine.

 

About Amanda Washington 3 Articles

Hey I’m Amanda. I am a self-driven journalism graduate student at American University, new to the journalism profession. In the past, I was a kindergarten teacher in Atlanta, GA. I am an aspiring broadcast journalist. I graduated from Spelman College in 2014

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