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A Look at Indigenous Influence on Fashion

submitted on 20 August 2023 by

From the Amazon to the Runway

Once upon a time, in a world before "fast fashion" and "influencers", humans adorned themselves in clothing that reflected their culture, environment, and traditions. Today, it seems that we have lost touch with the original essence of dressing ourselves in meaningful attire. However, there is a glimmer of hope and inspiration to be found in the fashion world, and we can thank our indigenous ancestors for that.Designers and fashion enthusiasts alike are increasingly drawing inspiration from indigenous cultures, creating unique and eye-catching garments with a story. Suddenly, fashion has gone from being a superficial, narcissistic endeavor to a medium for cultural exchange and appreciation. Welcome to 21st-century cultural appropriation: the good, the bad, and the culturally insensitive.

The Beauty of Cultural Exchange

Fortunately, there are cases where indigenous influence on fashion is done with respect and admiration, leading to stunning results. Picture this: a beautifully woven tapestry of intricate patterns and rich colors, once worn by an Amazonian tribe and now draped over the lithe form of a supermodel strutting down the runway. This is the exciting world of fashion that we live in today!Designers are turning to indigenous cultures for inspiration, not just for their vibrant colors and unique patterns, but also for their materials and techniques. From the lush forests of Brazil to the windswept plains of Mongolia, there is a treasure trove of textile knowledge and craftsmanship waiting to be discovered. Who knew that fashion could be so educational?
  • A classic example of indigenous influence on fashion is the Peruvian alpaca wool, which has been sought after for centuries for its warmth, softness, and durability. This luxurious natural fiber has found its way into high-end designer collections, providing a touch of Andean authenticity and sophistication.
  • Another example is Maori design elements from New Zealand, with their bold, graphic patterns and strong symbolism. These designs have become popular in the world of sportswear, offering a fresh, new aesthetic that combines tradition with modernity.
  • Indigenous Australian art and design have also made a splash in the fashion world, with their distinctive use of color and form. Designers have drawn inspiration from the rich visual language and symbolism found in traditional Aboriginal artwork, creating garments that are both visually stunning and deeply meaningful.

Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation?

While many designers have successfully incorporated indigenous inspiration into their collections, there is a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. The latter occurs when aspects of a culture, such as traditional clothing, are taken out of context and used in a way that is disrespectful or harmful to the original culture.Take the example of the Native American headdress, which has become a controversial fashion accessory in recent years. These headdresses hold deep spiritual significance for Native American tribes and are traditionally worn by respected leaders and warriors. So, when a 19-year-old college student slaps on a headdress and heads to a music festival, they're not exactly paying homage to the rich history and traditions of indigenous people. In fact, they're doing quite the opposite.The key to avoiding cultural appropriation in fashion is education and respect. If designers and fashion enthusiasts take the time to learn about the cultural significance of the elements they are borrowing, they can create garments that honor the original culture while still making a modern fashion statement.

Indigenous Designers Taking the Lead

One of the best ways to ensure that indigenous influence on fashion is done respectfully and accurately is by supporting indigenous designers themselves. These talented individuals have a deep understanding of their culture's artistic practices and can create clothing that truly represents their heritage.
  • Take, for example, Canadian designer Dorothy Grant, who is of Haida descent. Her brand, Dorothy Grant Ltd., features clothing that fuses traditional Haida design elements with contemporary fashion, resulting in stunning, wearable art.
  • Another notable indigenous designer is Patricia Michaels, who is a member of the Taos Pueblo tribe in New Mexico. Patricia's designs are a beautiful blend of her Native American heritage and her love of fashion, resulting in unique and striking garments.

Final Thoughts

Indigenous influence on fashion has the potential to enrich the fashion world, making it more diverse, meaningful, and interesting. However, it must always be approached with respect and a sincere desire to learn about and honor the cultures being represented. When done correctly, indigenous-inspired fashion can serve as a beautiful reminder of the richness and diversity of human culture and creativity.
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