Cultural Appropriation: How to Avoid it in Shopping

By Angel Wittkopf


All people have, in one form or another, either seen or been a part of cultural appropriation, but how does one respond to it? The world is an ever-changing organism where we, as individuals, see and are part of celebrations and styles of fashion ‘borrowed’ from Indigenous groups and/or blatantly copied from other countries of the world. It is seen in entertainment, fashion, literature, foods, and many other forms. As we move towards a changing world, the ideas of cultural appropriation must be acknowledged and dealt with in a proper manner. How do we as individuals strive to avoid this great issue but not limit our ability to buy and see the things we want?


Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements from a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. Through mainstream society and colonization, dominant groups have used and contorted the Indigenous image and style in many countries, the most well-known being Spain, Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands. These are popular holiday destinations, and because of that, they have created a new market for the exploitation of Indigenous styles and patterns as a means of money and filling the desires for local wears.


How often do you consider the ramifications of appropriation domestically and abroad? When going abroad, do we consider the impact of buying straight from the creators of clothing, or do we assume that the clothes or objects we buy are true to the First Peoples of the land? Another way to consider how we impact cultural appropriation is following the trail of its creation. Many documentaries have shown the path of clothing from sweatshops to the finished product in countries that can exploit its lower class workers or individuals that are excluded from the society. Next time you are wearing a piece of clothing from a department store, find out where in the world it is from. The places can be pinpointed to many Asian countries, South American countries, or Central American countries.


Choose not to support chains that carry culturally appropriative clothing and goods. There are other stores to shop at. While this limits the places you can buy from, it is the idea of supporting locally abroad and at home that puts the focus of the market to artisans and weavers. This is not to say that all franchises and department stores are guilty of appropriation–this is saying that, when looking at items such as moccasins, shawls, hats, blankets, etc., we should make an effort to purchase them from the people who created the designs.


The price changes will also affect one’s financial ability to buy clothes, which can be seen as problematic for individuals who desire locally-sourced clothing. However, when attempting avoid cultural appropriation in one form or another, you must be able to be adaptive to price changes and to the places things are bought. Mainstream media outlets such as advertisements, music, and commercials have had forms of cultural appropriation, but it can’t all be censored. It is up to the individual to choose how they handle these problems that may not seem important, but at the end of it all, would you feel better supporting a colonistic repercussion, or would you support the continuation of a cultural way of life?

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