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.

Street photograph of the Fashion District in New York City

NYC: Fashion District by Wally Gobetz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dress Politics

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.

Design & Imagemaking

Also on our radar:

Chinese millennials have not forgiven Dolce & Gabbana for their racist behavior and remarks a few years ago, showing long-term negative effects of brand missteps.

Mexico’s Ministry of Culture accused Zara and Anthropologie of using patterns from Indigenous groups without acknowledgement or compensation.

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.”

Oil painting in muted green and yellow tones, depicting three adults and many children

Winslow Homer. Dressing for the Carnival, 1877. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.⁠⠀

Business & Retail

Also on our radar:

Simone Biles is featured in her first Athleta campaign since her recent move to the brand after dropping Nike because she was seeking a partnership that better aligned with her values.

11Honore has launched a new initiative to help amplify BIPOC designers.

Burberry announced its first Japanese brand ambassador, Elaiza Ikeda.

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.

Dress Politics

Also on our radar:

Business of Fashion & McKinsey report that there may be nearly $300 billion in spending by Black Americans that is ‘up for grabs’ because they are unhappy with product offerings available to them.

Victoria’s Secret announced a revamped brand strategy that prioritizes diversity and inclusion in an attempt to reach new consumers.

Estee Lauder Companies released an update on their progress against their diversity commitments from last year, and future goals.

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.”

Fabric Warehouse!!! by Staceyjoy

Photo on Flickr by staceyjoy is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Labor Issues

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.