A New Generation of Designers is Reclaiming Native American Design

The misappropriation of Native headdresses is particularly prevalent in fashion. In 2014, for Germany's Next Top Model, Heidi Klum had contestants fly to Utah to model as indigenous people, complete with face paint, teepees, and yes, headdresses. Pharrell wore a feather headdress on the cover of Elle UK, as did Karlie Kloss in a Victoria's Secret fashion show. H&M was caught selling $15 headdresses in Canada. Headdresses were also seen on the runway at Chanel's Métiers d'Art show in Dallas.

"Native headdresses are not fashion — they are very sacred to us," says Esquiro. "Really only men wore them, and if a woman did, she was a chief. And a chief would have had to have earned each and every of those feathers, so when you see someone at a Chanel fashion show wearing one of them, I think it's disrespectful and in bad taste."

Cultural appropriation is certainly not unique to the Native American community nor the fashion industry, but the frequency with which fashion appropriates Native culture leaves experts baffled.

"It's about the intersection of aesthetic and spirituality," posits Denise Green, a professor in Cornell's American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program, who also oversees the school's Costume and Textile Collection. "The designs involve beliefs about the world and why we are here. There are very spiritual inclinations that get articulated and you can feel it in your heart. That creates something very compelling visually, and that's why it keeps getting ripped off. This is very intelligent, highly developed, good design which has been negotiated since time immemorial."

Some believe the problem is a lack of education. If designers, editors, and other people in the mainstream fashion world knew, for example, that headdresses were sacred items worn only by tribal leaders, would they use them as they do?

"There's so much that's misunderstood," says Dorsey. "I think fashion can be this accessible medium and a way that we can educate the public and help them better understand our communities and be better members of their own communities. The fashion world really needs a dose of that."

The preceding is an excerpt from Racked.com’s article, The Reclaiming of Native American Fashion. Read it in its entirety here.