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Labelling The Roots of South Asian Fashion to Solve Cultural Appropriation

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by Amina Khan

Many have conformed to the idea that appropriating culture is non-existent as people should be able to dress how they want, right?

Yet, the controversy is when brands and people relabel South Asian fashion as an original take on festival wear. The blatant disrespect of adorning yourself with no regard for the significance of culture is the core issue. When POC (people of color) are ridiculed for wearing traditional garments and are ostracized as easy targets to emit racist remarks at whilst Caucasian people are praised for wearing those same garments, principals how cultural appropriation is existent and dangerously thriving.

[ Today’s festival attire appropriates common South Asian clothing]

This issue recently appeared when a clothing vintage store in Manchester, England named Cow Vintage got called out by Armani Syed, a Desi gal who shopped there for over five years. When Syed commented on an Instagram post from COW that the clothing store was blatantly practicing cultural appropriation, they crudely blocked her.

She remarked on how garments from COW were not being labeled as Desi Garments or South Asian garments or saris or kameezes in an interview with AJ+. Instead, they were labeled as “festival wear”. Furthermore, Syed mentioned how her mother would get looks and comments for wearing a traditional shalwar kameez out in public.

[Read More: The Discussion We Need to Have: Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation]

The mere idea of being isolated from the public and pointed at and mocked at is a fear that desi people share. Therefore, we refrain from entertaining the freedom of being able to embrace our culture out in the open. However, anger lies in the torment of witnessing how cultural appropriation is being normalized and swept under the rug.

South Asian fashion is being branded as festival wear that we often see at major music festivals like Coachella. Desi fashion is being overridden by the overpowering and unapologetic community of people who believe they should be able to adapt fashions from other cultures. Although this is true, these people who are so eager to wear garments from other cultures need to recognize and appreciate the culture they seek fashion from.

Although festival wear is a major player of cultural appropriation, this issue is also exhibited in major designer wear. Marc Jacobs recently sent out Kendall Jenner on the runway in dreadlocks and Gigi Hadid has been pictured with a large afro on her head on the front cover of Vogue. Heated discussions erupted as cultural appropriation was easily indicated yet these major companies will continue to steal trends from different cultures and adorn them on Caucasian women. Normalizing these actions from major and even minor companies will only allow cultural appropriation to exist until labels are cemented into the fashion world.

[Marc Jacobs caught fire for styling Kendall Jenner in dreadlocks, a common hairstyle of black women, on the runway]

[Photo Source: Model Gigi Hadid faced backlash after wearing an afro in a shoot for Vogue Italia Magazine]

The issue continues to exist as POC are not being represented and are repeatedly discredited. However, we can fight back by speaking up and calling out cultural appropriation when we see any culture being omitted of its identity and branding and work towards educating others on the significance of a particular accessory/garment.

Appropriating culture is vastly different from appreciating culture. Cultural appropriation is not when you walk out with dreads, feathers in your hair, or a bindi on your forehead. Cultural appropriation is when you relabel them as a trendy new hairstyle, embellishments for your hair, or festival/costume wear. Labeling and recognizing fashion from where they derive from is appreciating the culture and allowing each other to value and understand other cultures.

[Read More: Hey, White Folks, This is What Cultural Appropriation Feels Like]


Amina Khan currently lives in Dallas but forever misses her home in Los Angeles. She is thriving to become a successful journalist and is always working towards enriching her writing by blogging about her travels or her current favorite TV show/book. Her dream is to work for AJ+ and deliver raw and unfiltered stories that don’t make it to major news headlines. When she’s not attending college or wandering around in botanical gardens, she invests her time in creating oil paintings and occupies herself with learning how to perfect Arabic calligraphy art. She also has an obsession for sushi, baby goats, Marvel and old people. Feel free to check out her blog!

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