Is the Industry Beginning to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Influence on Fashion?

“The fashion industry has long overlooked the contributions of Indigenous people,” Christian Allaire, Ojibwe novelist and Vogue writer tells Editorialist. To Allaire, the problem is not that Indigenous peoples’ design codes are absent from fashion—it’s quite the contrary. “Our prints, leatherwork, beadwork, quilt work, and more have all been appropriated at one point, and we often never get credit.”

The numbers agree: the market for indigenous-inspired jewelry is numbered at $4 billion (and counting), which is currently dominated by non-indigenous designers, according to Glossy. Meanwhile, fashion giants like Diane von Furstenberg, Ralph Lauren, and Calvin Klein have each made over $100 million in sales using imagery and iconography from Maasai tribe, according to a report by the Center for International Governance Innovation.

This phenomenon is a part of the fashion industry’s greater cultural appropriation problem. As Lauren Good Day, Arikara, Hidatsa, Blackfeet, and Plains Cree fashion designer, tells Editorialist: “Many major designers have been inspired by our patterns, iconography, and themes—and in some cases were positively set apart for ‘their’ design style.”

Although brands like Carolina Herrera, Anthropologie, and Isabel Marant have come under fire for borrowing indigenous design codes in recent years, legacy brands continue to make the same mistakes, pilfering Indigenous peoples’ creative contributions without proper accreditation. Today, Indigenous designers are fighting to see more cultural appreciation—or, the drawing of inspiration that honors the sourced culture.