Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation by Mary Llano

One of our goals at Fair Trade Fashion Show is to share knowledge of Fair Trade fashion and the many aspects of it.  We reached out to influencers, writers, experts in the industry to share the latest and their knowledge with us all.  This week, we start with our in-house team Mary Llano as she shares with us all on an introduction of Cultural Appropriation.  Reach out to us if you have a topic you'd like to share!  

The topic of cultural appreciation vs. appropriation has been written about countless of times, especially since the fair trade fashion industry has begun to grow. This topic can be daunting and confusing. There are many different perspectives and passions that drive them. I wanted to write on the basics of cultural appropriation. This will outline some of the differing views and allow you to understand and practice true cultural appreciation.

 Pic credit: National Geographic

Pic credit: National Geographic

We’ll go through the basics. Cultural appropriation is ‘a process that takes a traditional practice from a marginalized group and re-uses it to benefit a dominant group – ultimately erasing its origins and meaning’. This can be the act of dressing as a “sugar skull” for Halloween, or wearing a Bindi to a music festival. The Calavera has lost it’s meaning of representing a passed relative, to a less meaningful spooky skeleton people wear for Halloween. The Bindi no longer represents a third eye or marriage, but instead is simply worn as jewelry to a music festival. The definition can be polarized from one extreme to the other. It could mean the original intent is preserved or that people should never interact with artifacts outside of their culture.

I believe that there is a healthy balance between each.

 Pic credit: National Geographic

Pic credit: National Geographic

I truly feel that culture needs to be shared. This is where understanding begins and where appreciation can grow. People travel to certain places to better understand a culture, tradition, or a past. They experience this first hand and gain a better understanding of the culture, often ending in more appreciation. So, why must we stop sharing and educating? We shouldn’t! But, we need to be aware of how it is shared and how it could affect others.

As consumers, we should tread lightly when deciding to wear or purchase such pieces. We need to be able to wear them in a way that respects the original community while educating our own culture.  So, when a culture’s traditional pieces are used, “they need to be recognized and honored in a thoughtful and informed way”. It’s best to wear traditional garments when invited or when you have a deep understanding. We should wear them in a way that empowers and signifies its originating community. You should know the textiles used, the history behind it, the traditions that follow it, and so on. When you decide to purchase these pieces, purchase them from the originating country or places that support that country.

 Pic credit : National Geographic

Pic credit : National Geographic

It can be daunting and confusing to understand what is appropriate and what isn’t. If you aren’t sure how to appreciate a culture instead of appropriate it after this, you should read this article by Benita Robledo. She discusses alternatives to cultural appropriation. If you’re still stuck, below is a graph that I came across. It can help in deciding if you are being appreciative or appropriative of a culture. 

 Pic Credit: freshfeminism.tumblr.com

Pic Credit: freshfeminism.tumblr.com

I hope this will clear up some of your confusion and allow you to purchase more mindfully and consciously. And always remember, that one purchase or a single change can make a difference!

Mary Llano