Cultural Appropriation of African Fashion: Ankara
Cultural appropriation is a topic that has taken the media’s attention in recent years. This Black History month in the UK, we have been discussing the history of Ankara print. African print is now being embraced in more Western spheres and styles. Ankara long dresses and other Ankara dress styles are worn to lunch dates, nights out, and even to the office.
At MamMaw, we have a range of Ankara designs for ladies and Ankara dresses in the UK. This passion has led to this blog post. We want to help prevent issues like cultural appropriation. So, this post notes how it differs from cultural appreciation. We welcome customers outside of the culture wearing African print, as long as they acknowledge its history and original source.
There’s a sense of pride amongst black people for African fashion. This is partly due to the vibrant and uplifting design of Ankara prints, that represent the richness of African culture that we love. Through the symbols and designs we use on the fabric, we document our cultural meaning. Moreover, films like Black Panther have helped build this connection within the diaspora. More recently, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, due to the tragic killing of George Floyd has built a stronger sense of community for those both within and outside the black community, with there being several campaigns dedicated to helping the black community. Black Pound Day is an example of this.
Cultural Appropriation of Black History
However, as with many aspects of black culture, Ankara has had its fair share of cultural appropriation.
For example, Stella McCartney’s show at Paris Fashion Week 2018 received backlash for using Ankara. White models prevailed in the showcasing of these garments and there was no acknowledgment of the design’s source. This is what cultural appropriation is. It is parading a culture for its aesthetics but disregarding the source of where it comes from.
Cultural Appropriation Analogy
To help put things further in perspective, using culturally significant fabric is like writing an essay. It is classed as plagiarism when one writer quotes from another without citing them. This is like cultural appropriation. However, if the writer references their information’s source, they’re respecting its origin. Therefore, they treat it as more of a collaborative project. This is like cultural appreciation.
To illustrate this point further, Dior’s Cruise 2020 show leans more towards cultural appreciation. The French fashion house used variations of Ankara prints and staged this runway appearance in Marrakech at a 16th century-built palace. As well as this, the brand released Instagram posts, documenting the working process with African artisans to make this collection. They also explain the materials’ history. What is more, they feature an anthropologist, who mentions cultural appropriation. The fashion show also had a noticeable number of African models. All of these efforts tilt more towards appreciation.
Why is this important?
African people should be acknowledged and actively celebrated for the Ankara prints they create with these stunning fabrics. If you buy a cultural garment, you should know its history. If you are a designer, you should research and involve the cultural group of the material in the making process. You should inform your customers of its roots. As a result, cultural appropriation will have less room to exist.
If you have any more questions on this topic, you are welcome to comment below. We want to encourage this conversation.