My Culture NOT an Outfit

I was on my way to work this morning listening to a local radio station, The Breakfast Show on Afro FM when I heard about a petition that began 2 days ago, raising awareness about Urban Outfitters appropriating cultural and traditional clothing and designs from Ethiopia and Eritrea. The petition by  Lolla has a picture of the dress in question “Vintage ’90 Linen Dress” and it is evident that the material, design, and fabric is actually not vintage and not linen but a design and fabric taken from our Ethiopian and Eritrean culture. When I saw this I was shocked and outraged- how can they take our cultural attire and make it just some sundress, they did not even give us credit.

As almost all Ethiopian and Eritrean women, I have a similar dress and so does my grandma, my mom and my all aunts. The pattern, thick stripe of colored fabric at the hem is what we call telet (in Amharic) and every other part of the dress’ design from the waistline, sleeves, fabric,  is exactly what our traditional dress (hager lebs in Amharic)  looks like. 

#MyCultureNOToutfit

As you can see from the images above that I found on Makeda_Loveee’s instagram , the company Urban Outfitters has labeled the dress on the left as a “Vintage ’90 Linen Dress”  and they are selling it on their website for $209. On the right is  Makeda_Loveee, an Ethiopian girl wearing her mother’s dress that is years old and straight from Ethiopia. It is clear as day that this company has lifted from our cultures – cultures with rich traditions, cultures which take pride in our traditional style of dress – and appropriated them as its own. Please go sign the petition to stop urban outfitters appropriating traditional cultural designs from Ethiopia and Eritrea and so that they give full credit to the Ethiopian and Eritrean cultures.

Click here to go sign on the PETITION.

You can also show your support on the facebook page –  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Urban-Outfitters-Committing-Cultural-Theft/507443982626667?ref=stream

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2 thoughts on “My Culture NOT an Outfit

  1. Surprising? No. This is all too common in an industry that likes to use cultural clothing to create a trend that lasts five minutes before they move on to decimate another country’s clothing.

    I think its down to a mix of ignorance and laziness. Mainly laziness. Laziness because if you work in fashion you should have more than a passing idea of world clothing so clearly someone hasn’t been doing their homework, and also, I don’t think Eritrean and Ethiopian clothing/ fashion have the same amount of mainstream visibility as say, West African clothing. In some cases (when you’re in fashion and lazy) Eritrean/ Ethiopian clothing may not be as easy to spot so its easier to pass it off as just “vintage” because you can’t be bothered to do some research so you can give due credit. For example, its easier to identify an ankara/ wax print because of the very distinctive patterns and colours, also, they are pretty popular right now. Any intern can flick through a fash mag and see something similar. But with the item pictured you have to work a little harder and actually CARE in order to make an effort to find out where its originally from and what its called.This is rare in an industry that often values speed and quantity over quality and facts.

    Have you come across Ethio Beauty magazine? I had never heard of it until recently when they released their first print copy and I saw it on a news stand. I bought a copy and its a pretty good read. Very insightful.

    • I really like what you said, “a mix of ignorance and laziness”. That is spot on!

      It is a sad situation but there are many that would argue that the fashion industry’s creative outputs are commons– shared resources that can be freely reused, recreated and recombined. Thus, giving them yet another opportunity to take advantage of the little guy.

      In this case though, the company didn’t even make the dress or the design. They just found a dress and labeled it as vintage without doing any research whatsoever. It is such a shame. It could have only taken them a few minutes online to find the source of the design and learn from where it had come from.

      The Ethiopian fashion industry is as you may know still in its infant stages and doesn’t have the mainstream visibility that other countries may have but well, we can only hope that it will come about soon and people will start to recognize the designs and styles from my country. Fingers crossed!!!

      I have not seen the Ethio Beauty magazine, I will definitely look for it

      Thank you Deena!

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