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Cultural appropriation in fashion


As designers, it is important that we ask ourselves questions during every stage of the design process and that we challenge our world view. We are constantly taking inspiration from the world around us and using what we see in our work.  One of the terms that has become increasingly well known in the fashion industry is ‘cultural appropriation’.  Green and Kaiser (2020, 143) argue that all fashion has had some aspect of ‘appropriation’ because designers have all been inspired by either other cultures or by using the labour of workers in countries where pay is very low. They go on to discuss academic and popular conversations around power, language and definitions and the more subtle terms including ‘cultural exchange’, ‘cultural borrowing’ and ‘cultural appreciation’. 


When does cultural borrowing become cultural appropriation? Power relationships are often a key factor in establishing whether we are borrowing from or exploiting another culture. Professor of Law at the University of California, Olufunmilay Arewa uses the example of cultural borrowing from Africa and how this should be considered in the context of “historical power asymmetries between Africa and the rest of the world” (2016). She goes on to suggest that by looking at past examples of borrowing, we can guide ourselves on how we inform our practice and avoid doing damage to the creativity that is formed from being inspired by others. 


Darlo Calmese (2017) discusses this in their opening editorial of the Business of Fashion online magazine when they suggest that calling out cultural appropriation just makes designers accountable and that they should cite their sources. He uses the example of Dutch Wax Cloth which is a Dutch rip-off of an Indonesian batik printing. This was later appropriated by West Africans and is now generally associated as a print fabric from Africa. 




Arewa, O. (2016) Cultural appropriation: when ‘borrowing’ becomes exploitation. London: The Conversation. Available from [accessed 24 October 2021] 

Calmese, D. (2017) Op-ed: fashion does not need cultural appropriation. Business of Fashion. Available from [accessed 24 October 2021] 

Green, D.N. and Kaiser, S.B. (2020) Taking offense: a discussion of fashion, appropriation and cultural insensitivity. In: S. Marcketti and E. Karpova (eds.) The dangers of fashion. London: Bloomsbury, 143-160. Available from [accessed 24 October 2021] 

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RefWorks allows you to collect references from Library databases and the internet. 

You can export/import:

  • book references from the Library website,
  • journal and magazine references from databases such as the Design and Applied Arts Index and Art Full-text
  • journal and other references from Google Scholar
  • websites 

Then share your resources or create a reference list or bibliography in the University of Lincoln Harvard style to copy and paste into your work.