Fashion and cultural appropriation

Fashion and cultural appropriation

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Appropriation of appreciation? These are some questions that come to mind when looking at cultural appropriation in fashion. Are fashion brands and celebrities simply stealing from other cultures or are they taking design inspiration? And when do they cross the line?

Firstly let’s take a look at cultural appropriation. What does it mean?  Simply said, it is when someone copies something of a culture that is not their own. For example a style of clothing or a hairstyle.

When looking at the learning system for designers, but also to anyone who is looking for inspiration, we have been taught to look around us. To find inspiration in other cultures, countries, values etc. What does not come to mind whilst looking for this, is the ethical side. What does this symbol mean to the original culture? What values and traditions come with this? In a society where information is just a few clicks away, there is no excuse to not understand the heritage of this. Nevertheless, there have been many occasions where fashion brands, artists and other organizations took no action in this. For examples take a look at the ted talk below, where the issue is very well explained.

Whilst there is no end in sight for this heated discussion, I will leave you with some words Zendaya spoke in an interview with Nylon:

“You can go about it as cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation. You have to be very careful. Some things are really sacred and important to other cultures, so you have to be aware, politically, about those things before you just adopt them. In order to appreciate something, you have to know about it and understand. You don’t just wear something just to wear it — you have to understand the history behind it.”

Written by Claire Boerma


Brown, S. (2018). The Contentious Topic of Cultural Appropriation | NOT JUST A LABEL. Retrieved November 13, 2018, from

Dazed. (2015, August 5). Zendaya schools the world on cultural appropriation. Retrieved November 13, 2018, from

Hosie, R. (2018, May 2). Cultural appropriation: When does appreciation cross the line? Retrieved November 13, 2018, from