Friday, September 12, 2008


When I first saw pictures of American Apparel's new Afrika line popping up, I was intrigued, not for aesthetic purposes, but from where they took their inspiration.   Did they really research prints and textiles from Africa?   If so, what country, town, or tribe did it come from?

Labeling something tribal or African is pretty commonplace in the fashion industry when you can't trace the influences back to a specific place.  And the same goes for Asia.  But who's fault is this?  Is it the reviewers, editors, and buyers that feed us the trends and tell us that tribal and Asian influences are hot this season?  Is it the consumer that doesn't know any better?  Is it the designer that fails to accurately reference his sources?

I am no expert on Africa or Asia.  I hate when I can't find a better word to use then 'tribal' to describe a collection.  But it's very easy to fall in this trap.  I can research and make connections, but honestly, being so anal about this kind of stuff is going to give me a headache and turn me into a ranting bitch.  But what can I do besides educating myself and avoiding generalizations??

Where was I... oh back to AA's Afrika line. The reason for this post was that I found someone who was able to put into words how I felt about the collection.

While I would not use the word racist to describe what American Apparel has done wrong, I would use exotification, “othering,” cultural commodification and, well, stupidity. Plenty of Feministing commenters disagree, however, with lots getting stuck on the idea that wearing animal print is inherently racially offensive. No one is saying that. The problem is not zebra print. The problem is distilling a continent of many countries, cultures, languages and peoples down to its wildlife and faux tribal print. There is a tired “dark continent” stereotype at the heart of the American Apparel clothing line’s name and marketing. And THAT is a problem. -Tami (via Racialicious)

Another thing is that this is an old game. These places have been exoticized before. Around the time that Gwen Stefani was wearing a bindi my family started taking the Siddha Yoga path. I was so young that the only thing I got excited about was that I had a "real" reason to wear a bindi. I didn't know why they placed a red dot between their eyebrows or had three swipes of white powder across their forehead or why I had to treat my purple meditation mat with so much respect.

The aesthetics were the only thing that intrigued me.

And I think that is mostly what people are seeing when they look at this collection.


Ariel said...

I like this. Very thoughtful and very well written.

Nature Grafitti said...

such interesting and valid points. i agree with everything you've said :)

Elisabeth Moody said...

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allison said...

Oh, I could not agree more! It's so...stereotypical.

enc said...

You're probably right. And I'm sure you're one of the few people who bothers to research these things.

I found a sweater online with a symbol that looked like a Shou, but wasn't the same, and I looked it up, to be sure. I wanted to know.

SOTTO said...

Great points. The "ranting bitch" comment made me laugh and nod, partly because when I have tried to correct people's generalizations (e.g., in response to comments such as "That's so Oriental!"), I feel as if they somehow classify me as "militant." Do you ever get that?

Serena said...

I totally agree - riffing off of your comment about your family, my boyfriend is a practicing Buddhist but he feels conflicted about wearing his prayer beads because so many people wear them just because they're 'exotic.' I figure he should wear them anyways and not worry about other people, but the fact still stands that people wear things of significance to a particular culture or religious path about which they know little or nothing. Very thoughtful post and thanks for commenting on my blog!