The relationship between minority cultures and the fashion industry is undoubtably a tedious one, with designers, magazines and influencers alike often being called out for cultural appropriation. Dreadlocks used at Marc Jacobs’ SS17 show were deemed ‘insensitive’. The Valentino show of SS16, inspired by ‘wild Africa’ and featuring bongo drums and mostly white models wearing cornrows was highly criticised. And, most recently, the industry in general has been accused of fetishising the hijab with various styles of head coverings being featured in the AW18 shows of Versace, Calvin Klein and Gucci amongst, with little coverage of any of the shows acknowledging any possible Islamic roots or references.
These brands and artists and celebrities typically excuse their choices by claiming they were inspired by the culture but that’s the exact problem. Cultural appropriation can be thought of as picking and choosing the parts of a culture you want to participate in, often reducing significant cultural wear or styles to a mere fashion statement. It’s wearing a bindi to look cute at Glastonbury without having to deal with the outright aggression and violence faced by many people wearing the same attire. As a young white woman, brought up in a Roman Catholic family I am privileged in the fact that I’ve never faced the discrimination of many cultural and religious minorities, however that has not stopped my admiration of ASOS Made in Kenya, a perfect example of appreciating a culture instead of appropriating it.
Launched in 2009, ASOS Made in Kenya is known for exuberant prints and colours inspired by Kenyan landscapes. However, setting it apart from many of its competitors who claim to draw inspiration from such cultures is the brand’s dedication to giving back to the community that inspires its designs. ASOS collaborates with clothing manufacturer SOKO to employ local factory workers and pay them a fair living wage. It operates a local stitching academy for girls as well as funding both primary and secondary education in the community. It also supplies eye-care, sanitary products and rain catchers for clean drinking water.
ASOS Made in Kenya’s commitment to ethical production, sustainability and community empowerment is fresh and inspiring. I can only hope that other major brands follow suit, working to celebrate the communities and cultures that inspire such beautiful clothing. Check out my top picks from ASOS Made in Kenya’s latest collection below…
*All credit for the images in this post goes to asos.com
Peace and love, Bec