top of page

Cultural Appreciation vs Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation

"When a tradition, such as clothing or a hairstyle, is taken from a culture and used in a different way. It can offend people when people do this without making it clear where the traditions come from, or when they don't acknowledge how important they are to certain cultures."

Cultural appropriation is visible within the fashion industry. Take Kim Kardashian-West naming her shapewear line "Kimono". At first, when she received criticism, she remained adamant that she was going to keep the name. However, after the criticism grew she eventually decided to change it to Skims.

It must be considered that perhaps she only changed the name because of the negative attention it received, but she did explain that she did not intend to cause offence. However, it needs to be noted that celebrities such as Kardashian-West have a huge following on social media (she currently has 275M followers on Instagram) and therefore, she has the ability to influence a huge section of society.

This is problematic because people will have continued to buy products from her shapewear line if the name stayed as "Kimono", purely because of her celebrity status.

It is not just celebrities that have been accused of cultural appropriation, well-established fashion brands such as Gucci.

"In 2019, Gucci got a lot of criticism for selling an item which resembled a traditional turban worn by people in the Sikh community. People were upset because they felt that Gucci had ignored how important the turban is to the Sikh faith and presented their version as if it was a new fashion accessory."

Cultural appreciation

"When someone seeks to learn about and understand another culture and honour its important and long-held beliefs and traditions."

Ultimately, cultural appreciation is when something portrays a culture in an appropriate way (which is the opposite to cultural appropriation). A gleaming example of cultural appreciation in the fashion industry is the 2015 Met Gala in which Rihanna wore a gown designed by Chinese designer Guo Pei.

The Met Gala that year was centred on "Chinese influence on Western fashion". This outfit was celebrated for the fact that it encapsulated Chinese traditions, as well as Chinese influence on Western fashion.

It was clear that this piece was appreciative of Chinese culture, perhaps because the designer was able to understand and appreciate herself. She also put extensive research into "traditional Chinese designers", which meant that the gown accurately represented Chinese culture.

Fashion and culture intertwine in the sense that fashion becomes a tool of self-expression and a way of representing culture. In other words, fashion can be used to communicate to others who we are. This is why it is essential that cultures are appreciated, credited, and not altered. Fashion is a powerful tool and if it is used in the wrong way it can have a profound effect on others. Whether it is purposeful or accidental, if people are offended or insulted action should be taken to make sure this doesn't happen again.

What happens now?

People involved in the fashion industry are making changes in the right direction to reduce the use of cultural appropriation. However, it is important to remember that it does still exist. There are examples of people who have been accused of cultural appropriation, who have taken ownership for their mistake and attempted to rectify it (Kardashian-West changing her shapewear line from Kimono to Skims).

Nevertheless, it is important to consider that this action was taken after she had announced the name, meaning that people had already been offended.

It is important to consider that fashion brands do not intentionally want to offend different cultures. Credit should be given to an extent for those that make a mistake, take ownership ,and learn from it, as ultimately this will help to spread awareness about what is appropriate behaviour and what is not.

It is also worth highlighting that an emphasis should be made on encouraging people that work in the fashion industry to be culturally aware. If a fashion brand wants to include aspects of a certain culture in their work they should extensively research that culture to identify how to carefully portray the culture in a way that is appreciative and celebratory instead of being offensive.

In addition to this, it should be actively encouraged for fashion brands to try and include members of the chosen culture (if possible) before introducing their final work/product to the public.

After all, it should be assumed that the key to understanding a culture is through the people that are already part of it.

bottom of page