Ghetto Til’ Gucci

Written By: Dara Mcgee

The world is comprised of many cultures and backgrounds. We give life to our heritage by stimulating the senses. 

We connect with our ancestors and family members through hearing; the rhythm of the djembe drums being played in West Africa, or the syncopated hand clapping along to church hymns throughout the bible belt. 

Through taste, we savor the melting pot of Spanish and African influences in the mixture of Mojo Criollo, or the sweetness of ripe, fried, and caramelized plantains. Our olfactory perception can trigger responses and memories depending on the various customs we hold.

And when we dance it is the physical manifestation of multiple journeys; telling stories of past celebrations, births, deaths, wedding ceremonies, and liberations. 

Our cultures are tangible; clay being molded into elaborate pottery, gripping a paintbrush to add brushstrokes on a painting, or weaving materials together to create traditional warbonnets. 

Even the way people wear their hair and dress conveys the pride in who they are and what they represent. 

Culture is sacred and it is special, but time and time again, that doesn’t seem to resonate with the general public, especially in the name of fashion.

My culture is not a Halloween costume or a fashion statement. With the inclusivity that the fashion industry boasts, it would be reasonable to believe that true representation would exist. 

The lack of diversity when it comes to designers in the industry contributes greatly to this issue. In a world where kids are being force-fed and brainwashed to purchase luxury brands like Gucci, Prada, Burberry, etc. it can be harder for an up-and-coming designer (especially one of color) to receive the attention that they want and deserve. 

Conde Nast’s inclusion and community manager Erica Lovett states that there is a lack of opportunity and access for people of underrepresented backgrounds in the fashion industry. “It’s a systematic issue tied to the homogeneity of industry leadership,” she says in an article with Quartz at Work.

To see the representation that the consumers want, you have to start at the source, and the fashion industry knows this. The Council of Fashion Designers of America, or the CFDA, the leading trade association for fashion in America, as well as the PVH Corporation (owner of brands such as Calvin Klein, Izod, Tommy Hilfiger, and Van Heusen), admitted the lack of diversity in all aspects of fashion, whether it be the models, the designers, the entry-level workers, and all of the people in between. 

With that being said, why do some people in fashion think that “faking” diversity is just as good as implementing actual diversity within the industry?

The time to celebrate ethnic diversity and inclusivity has arrived. Yes, things are getting much better; there was a time when people of color weren’t even allowed to walk down runways, however, the things that are happening in fashion when it comes to unintentional racism is redundant. 

Gucci made a black sweater that starkly resembles a black person’s caricature in a minstrel show. H&M called a little black boy a monkey. Burberry had a hoodie that incorporated a noose. 

How can we forget the uproar when Marc Jacobs put colorful dreadlocks in the hair of the predominantly white models in his Spring 2017 fashion show? 

What about Valentino’s Wild Africa Spring/Summer show? Kente cloth, cornrows, and tribal-inspired were worn by waif-thin, Caucasian models who probably had no idea what the historical context was behind anything they were wearing. 

We have seen geisha-inspired makeup, Dastars (headwear that is associated with Sikhism) and Native American war paint being grossly misused in the name of “style.” Do some people think that these designers are purposefully making these decisions? In some cases, no, but they most likely do not grasp the concept of appropriating someone's culture. 

There is a fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation, and some of these fashion designers probably think that they are doing a good deed by exhibiting their interpretation of these different cultures and customs...emphasis on “their interpretation.” Many of them don’t understand the cultural context as to why what they are doing is wrong, but let’s be honest- since many designers are typically European and male, society has told them that they don’t really have to understand. 

Had someone like Valentino taken the time to educate himself on traditional attire and designated his research to a particular region instead of generalizing that all of the continents are wild and dressed in a specific way, maybe he wouldn't have gotten as much backlash as he had received. If the show had models that somewhat represented the African Diaspora, maybe there wouldn't have been as much controversy. 

With the position of privilege a certain demographic of people have in the world and the history of oppression that has affected countless ethnic groups, it's insensitive and inconsiderate. Consider how many people of color have been told that they look tacky, ghetto or too militant when wearing something authentic to their culture, i.e. box braids? Only to have a Kardashian get them installed, call them something completely different and be deemed an icon by 12-year-olds from Orange County and white fashion bloggers? 

Let’s dive a bit deeper, shall we? Bindis are absolutely beautiful. A bindi is a colorful dot in the center of a person’s forehead that is originally worn within the Hindu and Jains religion from the Indian subcontinent. One may think that it’s merely a cute ornament to adorn your face, but culturally, it symbolizes many things. The bindi can represent a woman being married, as well as being seen as the third eye chakra and a way to ward off bad luck. Someone should never wear a bindi without doing extensive research on the culture and the meaning behind its presence. 

Where did the bindi most recently get appropriated? Good ole’ Coachella. There were rich socialites and trust fund kids running around the deserts of California with their bindis, large hoop nose rings, and “boho chic” attire, happily desecrating multiple cultures that they knew nothing about. 

And we can “boycott” these brands all we want, but we can’t expect to see any significant change if we knowingly reinvest in them the moment our favorite influencer is spotted in a new piece.

To the fashion industry, you can do better, and it’s not like you don’t know that you can. Do your research, learn to understand the culture and their customs, don’t disrespect the origins of what you’re wearing or the history that may come from it, and ask’s not that difficult. 

Shelby Kolb, the CEO of CFDA says that making sure the industry is talking about diversity and inclusivity and listening to other people’s experiences is a step in the right direction. The question that we find ourselves confronted with however is how many steps will it take for us to actually get somewhere?