Jun 2nd, 2023, 10:00 AM

The Fashion Industry Is Pretending To Be Self-Aware

By Courtney Hoang
Image Credit: Rodin Banica/Unsplash
Cultural appropriation is a common phrase in the fashion industry but what does it mean and how do we fix it?

Almost every major fashion brand has dipped their toe into the pool of controversy. From Gucci’s ‘Indy Full Turban’ in 2019 to Prada’s 2018 release of ‘Otto Toto’, many of the critiques these labels receive are about cultural insensitivity and appropriation. While criticism is unavoidable, cultural insensitivity is, which begs the question of why appropriation is commonplace within the fashion industry. The lack of diversity in Fashion’s biggest voices results in a lack of ability to recognize when cultural insensitivity could be at play.

In 2018, the Italian luxury fashion house, Prada, released a monkey keychain called, Otto Toto, which strongly resembled the anti-Black caricature, Sambo. Unsurprisingly, the major fashion brand faced backlash, particularly regarding the negligence involved in the design and approval of the Pradamalia keychain character. Like many brands that have experienced public backlash, Prada made a reactionary adjustment when faced with accusations of casual racism, by creating a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council

Reactionary adjustments are a common tactic for corporations facing public controversy. However, denouncing racist imagery by creating a DE&I initiative is as helpful as slapping a bandage onto an ongoing issue that cuts much deeper. It is hard to have faith in Prada’s DE&I bandage when similar issues and responses have happened, and continue to happen, without any long-term progress.

Gucci faced similar backlash in 2019 with their balaclava , which not only resembled blackface imagery but was also released during Black History Month. While Gucci responded to the backlash with an internship program aimed at increasing diversity within the company, the major fashion house continued to make the same mistakes. That same year, Gucci released their ‘Indy Full Turban’ that cost nearly $800, monetizing an important Sikh article of faith. When these high fashion brands repeatedly make the same mistakes, they expose their lack of awareness on underlying, structural issues. When the same brands create garments that clearly resemble historically or culturally significant symbols, without a genuine understanding of their origin, they become insensitive and distasteful.