Arts & Culture

Support Indigenous artists, not ‘Indigenous-inspired’, this holiday season

When KTZ, a fashion company based out of the United Kingdom, recently came out with their new collection, eyebrows were raised in the Inuit community, but it wasn’t until Salome Awa did an interview with CBC about one of KTZ’s jackets that the whole world paid attention.

The jacket was an almost identical replica of Awa’s great-grandfather’s. Photos show the design work of hands and a circle were part of the Inuk shaman’s sacred garment. Immediately, people were outraged and letters started to pour out from people protesting the appropriation of Indigenous regalia, once again.

Though KTZ has since apologized and removed the jacket from its collection, this is not the first time the designer has appropriated such art. While this year’s collection was inspired by Inuit culture, KTZ’s collection from last year was inspired by Native Americans. Nearly an exact replica of a dress made by Northern Cheyenne/Crow designer Bethany Yellowtail was copied by the design house. Yellowtail’s design was from a Crow pattern passed down through generations by her ancestors.

This appropriation of Indigenous clothing is allowing companies to profit from Indigenous designs without acknowledging where they come from.

Indigenous inspired apparel has been growing in popularity for the last five years, starting with fringe shoes and boots, going to fringed purses, to bead work styles, and in the popular music festival scene, the hipster in the headdress. Many organizations have been fighting cultural appropriation, including the popular blog Native Appropriations by Dr. Adrienne Keene (Cherokee Nation) and a new group, ReMatriate, founded by Indigenous women from the North.

ReMatriate started with conversations among a group of young, Indigenous artists, students, and professionals who were concerned about the types of images of Indigenous women that were being portrayed in the outside world, particularly after the Canadian design company D-Squared came out with their Native American inspired line, D-Squaw.

Jeneen Frei Njootli (Vuntut Gwitchin), a founding member of ReMatriate from Old Crow, Yukon, said KTZ is part of a “phenomenon in the fashion industry that contributes to the violent erasure of indigenous peoples,” adding that this appropriation of Indigenous clothing is allowing companies to profit from Indigenous designs without acknowledging where they come from.

Despite the ongoing appropriation, a solid group of Indigenous designers are making small waves in the fashion world, including Yukon First Nation designer Sho Sho Esquiro. Esquiro famously works with materials like beaver tails, fish skin, and feathers, digging deep into her roots to show a contemporary flair on her Kaska Dena lineage. But instead of Esquiro’s work being shown at Milan Fashion Week or on the big stages like New York Fashion Week, labels like KTZ, DSquared and Urban Outfitters are making millions of dollars off designs that have been passed down from generation to generation of Indigenous peoples.

Instead of purchasing a jacket from KTZ inspired by Inuit design, why not buy a seal skin jacket from Inuk designer Victoria Kakuktinniq, who uses old techniques of sewing seal skin in a young and contemporary way? Or instead of buying that hot new fringe purse from the mall, why not buy the authentic works of Natalie Waldman, a Dene artist from the Northwest Territories?

Browse websites like Tlicho Online Store, Beyond Buckskin, NDNcraft, or Manitobah Mukluks to buy gifts for your family during the holiday season and support the Indigenous artists who have been passed down these sewing, beading, and art techniques for generations.

Appropriation doesn’t just happen with designers who steal ideas, it also happens with the consumer who does not educate themselves on the real history of a product.◉

Photo credit: istockphoto/mtig

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