This fall’s ‘newest’ fashion trends are just stolen style from India

‘The Kohinoor diamond sits in the British crown and Indian designs sit in the display windows of Zara’

Growing up in the UK until the age of 18, I always thought of myself as British first and foremost. Alongside that, I am also an Indian. My family and I visited India every year. At the age of 12, my family moved back while I stayed in Birmingham with my grandparents to finish my education. As a result both my feet are truly in both cultures and I feel a strong affinity to both parts of my identity.

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During my latest trip to India I indulged in some retail therapy. Looking to find a few pieces that you can’t find back west, I found myself feeling disappointed and quite frankly, cheated.

Everything I found is being marketed by western brands for far greater costs and with no respect to Indian culture. Just as the Kohinoor diamond gifted by India to Queen Victoria now sits in the British crown, designs from India sit in the display windows of Zara.

People don’t know what they’re wearing

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Many pieces from this culture have “inspired” and traveled their way into the western world. This ranges from lattice shapes of palace windows translated into cutouts on heels to elegant palace wall paintings used on chiffon tops and distressed jeans.

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If a person chooses to wear a strongly ethnic piece, it’s important to know it’s origin. Its story is crucial to understanding the value of the piece. We are all part of a global community. Whether you are aware of it or not, what you wear has a global context.

Imitation is not flattery

It’s hard not to visit a place like India with its extraordinarily vibrant culture and not get absorbed. But when is it a compliment to India’s society and when is it just rude appropriation?

Now we’ve all seen bindi-wearing babes at music festivals. You can forgive that every so often. However, when large multi-million (even billion) dollar companies such as Chanel and Zara blatantly imitate designs and profit from pieces, that’s when I can’t sit around and giggle.

They are often produced at a low-quality whereas the originals have been tirelessly worked over by talented artisans. Even when they are created in ateliers in Paris or Milan they are denying the work of the original craftsmen and women.

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Zara has been known to copy the red-soles from Louboutin. Yet, only recently they were caught up in a scandal in which they were accused of imitating comical drawings of indie artist Tuesday Bassen. They were seen to use her drawing to create patches and pins to sell en masse.

This caught quite a following on Instagram and Twitter in which customers vouched to boycott these products. Cultural appropriation should get the same upset but doesn’t.

Fast fashion is creating an uninformed/oblivious buying society

As an avid follower of fashion over the years, there have been multiple pieces that I would have loved to own. After looking up the location of their manufacture and conditions under which these pieces were created it shocked me.

Fast fashion creates a want-obsessed society. We do not feel responsible for whose livelihood is at stake for the sake of our own desire to fulfill our style needs. Large brands should be more conscious about maintaining the craftsmanship and the lifestyle of the artists who they’re “inspired” by.

This kind of consumer is unconcerned about rebranding components of other cultures as their own. Fashion should not be used to suppress another culture but rather celebrate it.

How to know if you are empowering and not appropriating a culture

1) Think of the reason why you’re wearing a particular item. If the reason does not align with ideologies of the culture it comes from, then you probably shouldn’t be wearing it.

2) Be aware of the vendor you are buying from. If your money is going back to those who created the pieces, you are empowering the culture it came from.

3) Is the piece you’re wearing authentic? If the item is made by people who have a relation to the culture and is not some Urban Outfitters knock-off, you’re good.

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Columbia University