Indigenous groups are asking the UN to ban cultural appropriation
At the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization, delegates from various countries have asked the United Nations to establish legal ramifications for the use of indigenous imagery. Various fashion brands such as Dsquared2 and Urban Outfitters have come under fire for cultural appropriation in recent years. New guidelines could establish consequences for future brands that use indigenous imagery and culture without permission.
The delegates meeting in Geneva represent indigenous groups from nearly 200 countries, including Mexico, New Zealand and the United States. As reported by the CBC, dean of law at the University of Colorado James Anaya has asked the UN to create a document that would “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions.”
Their demands that the UN create consequences for appropriation of indigenous culture could have major effects on the fashion industry.
Many fashion brands have faced cultural backlash and criticism for appropriating indigenous imagery without permission. Urban Outfitters has faced an actual legal battle; the Navajo Nation sued the company in 2012 for trademark infringement after the retailer sold Navajo-branded products such as flask and underwear. The lawsuit was settled in 2016.
Major brands to have come under fire include Dsquared2, which showed its controversial “Dsquaw” collection in 2015. The runway presentation showed models dressed in headdresses, blankets and inspired by Canadian indigenous tribes, and was widely received as racist and offensive.
More recently, Tory Burch was criticized for labeling a garment from her Resort 2018 collection as “African” inspired when it was shown to be identical to a traditional Romanian coat. Burch later updated the description to describe piece as Romanian in style.
Accusations of cultural appropriation have also been lobbied at fashion magazines. In its March of 2017 issue, Vogue released an editorial showing model Karlie Kloss in traditional Japanese clothing and makeup. Many criticized the magazine for using a white model, and depicting Asian people merely as props.
Valentino’s Spring 2016 campaign similarly depicted white models in cornrows and African-inspired clothing. The campaign was shot in Kenya, using locals as a backdrop to the images.
The efforts of indigenous groups may not take effect anytime soon, as the UN has been drafting a document to protect indigenous culture for 16 years without a final draft.
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