Welcome to this week’s edition of In the News! This week, we look at the complexities of personal identity and cultural heritage in relationship to design, the historical significance of fashion in relation to Juneteenth, progress on initiatives to increase diversity in the industry, and the struggles faced by AAPI garment workers in New York.
The Indigenous-owned brand 4Kinship, formerly known as Orenda Tribe, has experienced an interesting mix of both support and criticism over the past year. Between April 2020 and April 2021, traffic to Orenda Tribe’s website more than tripled, and the brand was featured in publications like Vogue as they tried to highlight more BIPOC designers. But at the same time, the Albuquerque-based brand received significant scrutiny, with online critics objecting to Orenda Tribe’s approach, pricing, and name: Orenda is a spiritual term sacred to the Haudenosaunee people originating in northeastern America.
The brand’s founder, Amy Denet Deal, is of Diné, or Navajo, heritage, but was adopted and raised by a non-Native family. She began learning about her heritage in 2007 when she reconnected with her birth family. In 2015, she left a career as a designer in the mainstream fashion industry to create her own label selling upcycled creations. As an individual with a complex background, Denet Deal explains that realigning with her heritage has been challenging, as she is continuously “letting go of the way that I was brought up in a non-Native public school in a non-Native family, and then embracing who I am as an Indigenous person.” Those same challenges are reflected in her approach to her brand, which has been heavily criticised by Native American communities on social media and in online petitions. In a recent profile, Business of Fashion asks: “is Denet Deal an Indigenous designer who, having beaten the odds to find success late in life in fashion on her own terms, used her business success to help her community? Or is she an outsider profiting from a historically disadvantaged group?”
These are complex questions that reflect some of the same issues that we discussed in our first issue of In The News in the context of Virgil Abloh’s use of Ghanian Kente cloth, when we explored whether one’s own heritage changes the dynamic of appropriation. As identities become increasingly layered and intersectional, issues of cultural appropriation and integrity are evolving to be even more complex and nuanced.
Watch the panel Native/American Fashion: Inspiration, Appropriation, and Cultural Identity which discusses problematics of cultural appropriation.
See a doctoral research presentation by Jessica Metcalf, exploring Native Designers of High Fashion: Expressing Identity, Creativity, and Tradition in Contemporary Clothing Design.
Read Borrowed Power, a collection of essays on cultural appropriation, focusing on America’s appropriation and use of Native American culture specifically.
Also on our radar:
Design & Imagemaking
Last week, we celebrated Juneteenth, and a timely article published by InStyle explores the significance of fashion as a key aspect of the holiday, and delves into its historical origins. Bridget Todd writes about how “Juneteenth itself is a way to reclaim and express social and political freedom, and the clothing people wear continues to be part of that…It is a response to the fact that the enslaved couldn’t use clothing to express themselves.”
Further exploring the history of clothing as an oft overlooked aspect of the slave trade and the lives of enslaved peoples, Todd explains that, “For freed slaves, having control over your attire was an expression of freedom and a way to cast off their identity as slaves.” In celebrating the first Juneteenth, freed people were eager to “cast away the ragged garments” they had been forced to wear. The freedom to express oneself through dress became central to the holiday. Todd mentions, “When I was growing up, it was customary to wear your nicest outfits as a way to honor the enslaved who had no control over their clothing choices.”
Explore our curated library reading list, “Fashion & Enslavement.”
Visit the digital humanities project, Fashioning the Self in Slavery and Freedom, a centralized resource for relevant content, articles, archival images, and videos.
Listen to an Unravel Podcast episode with dress historian Joy Davis, discussing, “The Enslaved Body: Fashion and Language.”
Also on our radar:
Business & Retail
One of the many diversity initiatives launched last June was Pull Up For Change. Founded by Shannon Chuter, the #PullUpOrShutUp campaign demanded transparency from companies by asking them to publicly reveal how many Black employees they had, specifically in corporate leadership roles.
The movement went viral for its simple and straightforward demands that easily poked holes in most brands’ performative statements of support. While the campaign initially focused on beauty brands, its reach expanded far beyond, with companies like Netflix and Starbucks ‘pulling up’ and releasing detailed diversity statistics. In a recent interview with Elle, Chuter shares how the initiative has evolved and expanded over the past year. As a beauty brand founder herself, she also shares her experiences with retailers and their often superficial approach.
Listen to an episode of the Fashion No Filter podcast featuring Robin Givhan and Henrietta Gallina, in which they discuss issues of “performative marketing and smoke and mirror optics of advertising and inclusivity.”
In our Retail as a Portal conversation series, we explore how retail can empower us to produce and consume with positive, social impact and ignite systemic change.
Also on our radar:
Sustainability & Labor Issues
In a recent piece for Refinery29, writer Eliza Huber argues that the significance of the AAPI community in New York’s Garment District has been largely overlooked by initiatives to support Asian Americans over the past few months. Recent data shows that 54% of all NYC Garment District businesses are owned by Asian Americans, and almost 44% of the total workers in America’s garment industry are Asian. With many companies shifting production overseas, the Garment District was already struggling, and cancelled orders during the pandemic severely impacted those few factories remaining.
Yet as many fashion brands posted superficial statements supporting the AAPI community, none made efforts to actually support Asian garment workers and Asian-owned factories in the Garment District that are struggling to stay afloat. Huber suggests, “Rather than broadcasting their support for the AAPI community on social media, designers can make a direct impact and reroute their efforts to investing in the thousands of Asian Americans who play a crucial part in New York City’s reputation as a major fashion capital.”
Learn more about the fashion industry’s response to the #StopAAPIHate movement in one of our early issues of In The News.
Watch Made in America, a documentary film by Remake that explores the challenges of immigrant garment workers in the U.S.
Support the Garment Workers Center, a leading workers rights organization.
Also on our radar:
Following calls for a ‘fashion czar’ to spearhead government policy relating to environmental and labor issues, the advocacy organization Fashion of Tomorrow has now launched a #Vote4Fashion campaign to help demonstrate the public demand for policy change and engage current legislators to become part of the movement.