White Women Wearing My Mother’s Dress

by Sara Bivigou

wax prints

In Selfridges a couple of weeks ago I copped a feel of this Burberry Prorsum dress. It felt exactly as you would expect a £1,795 printed silk crepe de chine dress to — soft and thin and light on the fingertips. Touching it made me recoil. I wanted it to feel soft and strong and unyielding like every piece of fabric my mother has turned into a headwrap, or like every pagne my aunts have wrapped around their waists or like every m’boubou ever. The print is deceptive, bright and bold and comfortably geometric. How could it be made of anything other than African fabric? How could it not be tough and tightly textured cotton?

I understand that wax prints specifically, and
African influences generally, have been en vogue
(and in Vogue) for a while. As well as Burberry
Prorsum’s Spring 2012 collection see: Christian
Dior, Juyna Wanatabe, Spring 2009. Marc by Marc
Jacobs, Spring 2010. L.A.M.B., Spring 2011.
Marni, Vivienne Westwood, Autumn 2011. Derek
Lam, Louis Vuitton (Mens), Spring 2012. I can
guiltily admit to admiring individual pieces – my
lust for Marc Jacobs’ Spicy shoes is indecent – but
I’d never buy or wear them. Trends are built to be
fleeting, paying attention to them is exasperating
enough, when they take on things I enduringly
love they become frustrating, bordering on

To me wax print material was always known as fabric, just fabric, as in “Bring me my fabric scarf I want to wrap my hair up,” or “Make sure your fabric dress is ironed in time for church tomorrow morning,” as though this was the first material to ever exist and all other textiles have more descriptive names because they need to distinguish themselves.

Wax print is now the standard issue term and Google searching it returns in 0.32 seconds results which all in some way reference Africa. It is taken for granted that today when we talk about wax prints we’re talking about a type of drawn, blocked, and dyed prints that are African. Even though wax print clothing is also made in China, even though batik like prints are thought to have descended from Indonesia, even though a number of longstanding wax print manufactures operate out of Europe. This fabric’s identity is wrapped up in that of the resource rich, 54 state continent.

Wax prints mean a lot to me. When I see them I think of old school family portraits, of people I’m related to way back when, miles away wearing terse expressions, dressed matter-of-factly in bright and complicated patterns. I think of family gatherings, celebrations, christenings, marriages, birthday parties, reunions which are always riots of colour and repeated shapes. Tough cotton wrapped around heads, tough cotton draped over shoulders, tough cotton tightened around waists, clashing with tough cotton blouses, and matching leather shoes. I think of my aunts and uncles all dressed up on a Saturday night and ready to go a dinner-dance. I think of my mother all dressed down on a Sunday morning, singing hymns, doing housework, my sleeping brother wrapped tightly to her back in yards of fabric. I think of the clothing I’ve inherited, presents I’ve been given, bags, dresses, skirts I rarely wear, bolts of fabric I always do as scarves. I think: this attire is a connection to my heritage, it is clothing comfort food.

I do not want any of these thoughts diluted by appropriation. I feel odd and displaced when willowy-limbed high fashion models catwalk strut in wax prints because then the fabric assumes a new identity.  Its intention to clothe African bodies is lost, its meaning is emptied out away from me.

  • apple

    white peopel stay cultural appropriation every thing they can find.. first the asians, then native americans, now us

    my culture is not a trend

  • arlette

    thank you! jeez i am fed up of this. our culture is not a trend, its not something i feel that they even look good in. why if they wanted to do his cant they hire only black models?

  • Yeahright2011

    Blacks in the 60/70′s did the same; chose whichever elements of the few ethnic groups in Africa they came in contact they liked and created a perverted bastard culture of sorts, it was unsuccessful. In fact we have a nasty habit of co-opting culture/achievements of other black nationalities. Can’t say its just whites.

  • chi9ja

    I actually don’t have anything against these fabrics, its good we have the hard cotton *original* African fabric. But leaving it like that is restricting and limiting our fashion and style growth. What i am actually upset about is the fact that “it seems like” they got the ball rolling on the idea before us, not good, not good at all.

  • http://facebook.com/fufuandoreos fufuandoreos

    I talk about this in my play and I call out non-Nigerians (not just white people! hint) for calling my traditional wear “tribal” and ‘exotic” and “so hot right now” without giving credit. It’s not difficult to obtain knowledge about a culture. I think it’s a little bit of laziness, a lot of greed, and big dose of blindness.

  • QoNewC

    I think its a great idea. Maybe this will create a larger market for African textiles, designers, and stylist. I would wear all that stuff though I prefer block colors. We dont live on an island and we take and give to different people in different places all the time. I think we need to see more cultural fusion.

  • QoNewC


    Please dont go there. We all borrow from each other and thats the way it should be.

  • sodabread

    Y’know that Marc Jacobs jumpsuit featured on the thumbnail?!
    well 2 yrs ago my family flew to Nigeria for my Grandfather’s wake and my mum asked me to give some thumbnails to the seamstress so she’d create an outfit using the same shape but using our cloth….
    Needless to say I felt very satisfied copying the jumpsuit shape but using our Holland Wax print it cost a fraction of the price if I bought the original Marc Jacobs outfit! :)
    I can’t wait til til it gets warmer so I can wear it again!

  • fffff

    But it’s okay for africans and other races to wear WESTERN clothes?

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    A lot of Africans and “non westerners” as you call it were born and raised in western nations, so what are they supposed to do, go naked?

    Wow this blog has been attracting a ton of brain-dead zombies as of late. I hope you never reproduce.

  • befree

    In a larger context we don’t seem to be able to make as money off our own culture(s) as much as culture vultures are able to do and that’s the real issue. Can an African/ African American designers use their own culture and be seen as innovative and cutting edge? I remember when Carrie for sex in the city had a name plate necklace. Black girls have been rocking them since the early 80′s, somehow on Carrie it was seen as “fashion forward” and on us “hood” wear. There is a problem when other people can make more money off our culture than we can. Some how our “association” with black fashion makes it hard to market to other groups, but let a white person “appropriate” it and it’s a hit. This has a lot to do with economics as well.

  • CurlySue

    Don’t be dramatic with the title, please. This is not your mother’s ACTUAL dress. Also, that is the nature of fashion. Hello! It borrows from different inspirations around the world, from different time periods, etc. If it never progressed, was never daring, we’d still be walking around in mammoth skins. And I think we can all agree that mammoth skin makes us all look fat.

  • fffff

    Reply to : cupcakes and shiraz

    I’m a self made multi-millionaire under the age of 25, so no I’m definately not brain dead, I run my own business and company, which requires intilligence. I’m also Nigerian and I dont see the issue with this. We’re fine with using western garments, but they cant use ours? IT’S THE SAME THING. NO DIFFERENCE.

  • EnsomCityEmpress

    I sincerelt hope that all these fabrics are actually helping an african, because if designers are just buying from manufacturers then that would a shame. I have nothing against other women from other cultures wearing African fabrics, as long as someone back in Africa is benefitting I am all for it.

  • Katy

    Cultural appropriation at its finest…

  • Katy

    Western clothes? Most of the stuff we were isn’t even made in Western countries.

  • http://www.theputonputon.tumblr.com Trey

    “We’re fine with using western garments, but they cant use ours? IT’S THE SAME THING. NO DIFFERENCE.”
    Agreed! And kudos to ur successes thus far!

  • Liz

    I was skimming through the Saks cookbook the other day and lo and behold Donna Karan and her “Haiti inspired dress” whatever that means. I know how you feel..

  • Liz


  • QoNewC


    Im Haitian and I would have been happy to have our styles exposed to the wider fashion world through designers like Donna Karen. How does it benefit Haitians if it is kept on our tiny yet beautiful little island? Right, it doesnt. Black people arent more sacred than others.

  • Libby

    . How does it benefit Haitians if it is kept on our tiny yet beautiful little island? Right, it doesnt.

    You are right it doesn’t. It benefits Donna Karen’s pocket. You sound like that’s a good thing. Like the other poster said. They would rather buy your style for Donna ( white) than from Dayanne Danier ( Haitian).

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    @fffff- Sure I believe you’re a self-made millionaire…and I am the Queen of England. We can be whatever we want on the intrawebs, honey. ;)

  • Mw

    @ Liz

    Some people need baby steps. If cloth is the intro into our people, our culture, our concerns, then I agree with QoNewC and say no be it.

    Appropriation sucks ass but we aren’t immune to it; hopefully exposure (exploitation) brings the curiosity out in people to learn and do more

  • Bisous

    That WOULD be great, but alot of the groups they take the concept from don’t see any money from the designs. They don’t even hire experienced African textile makers to create the garments. Alot of the original patterns have deeply spiritual or cultural meaning behind them, but these designers don’t even bother to credit them. If they wanted the could buy the textiles from the source putting money in the hands of the true originators and affording them another source of commerce. It’s just another case of pimping as far as I’m concerned…

  • Libby

    I am really floored by how many people cosign that African inspired fashions need a white “cultural” ambassador.

  • fffff

    When I read this article I simply stated that I didnt think there was anything wrong with what the west designers are doing. Then you called me a brain dead zombie who should never reproduce because of my stupidity. It was because you made a jab at me in such a disgusting manner that I brought up that

    1) I’m a self made millionaire. If you even read my reply, the emphasis wasnt even on being a millionaire but the fact that I run and own by own succesful business, only reason I mentioned that was to flush down your comment in the toilet.

    2) Second of all, I also mentioned in my reply that I was Nigerian and those patterns are fabrics are everywhere in Nigeria, can be bought in any market place. There would be a difference if I was bragging about being a self made millionaire but I only mentioned my accomplishment because you told me to not reproduce, which is a disgusting a comment. Who says that to someone else? I replied to this article in a disrespectful manner, only for a person to respond in a disgusting way. And I wouldnt like about things for like this, what’s the point of lying on a article online? See no point in that. The only reason I mentioned it is because you called me a braindead zombie who shouldnt reproduce, instead of lowering myself to your level and calling you bad names, I just made sure you know I’m succesful and I dont need to be disrespectful back or call you names.

  • fffff

    I accidently wrote that ”I replied to this article in a disrespectful manner” but I ment in a RESPECTFUL manner. Blah, dont like writing on my ipad, I become so clumsy then.

  • fffff

    I accidently wrote that ”I replied to this article in a disrespectful manner” but I ment in a RESPECTFUL manner. Blah, dont like writing on my ipad, I become so clumsy then.


  • Yb

    The worst thing of all about this cultural appropriation is that they take Ankara and make it look like shit. It’d be a cold day in hell before I see a Ghanain or Nigerian woman wearing those ugly ass, overpriced items from the runways.

  • Yb


    Many West African countries are becoming westernised so there is no reason that many shouldn’t wear western style clothes. Maybe you have forgotten about colonisation and it affect on the continent.

    Western civilisation does not mean white. Western culture is a universal culture that trancends race. Many of the western nations were built by the descendants of Africans so it is ludicrous that you suggest Africans should not wear western clothes and be able to speak against cultural appriopration.

  • No

    If you have on a silky weave, bone straight hair, or highlights or blonde coloring you have no room to be pointing fingers because you copy off of white and non black women every day. I am so tired of black women claiming “they” copy us when we gladly erase who we are with every trip to the salon.

    Imitation is the highest form of flattery ladies. Remember that when you are screaming about needing a touch up on your roots or scanning the Korean owned hair store for the perfect pack of yak.

  • Yb

    Ummm this article is about cultural appropriation, not hair. Physical characteristics do not equate to a culture. Please. Stop trying to police how black women wear their hair. If you ain’t paying their hair salon bill or buying their hair products the best thing for you to do is STFU and do you.(this coming from a natural sister btw)

    And don’t confuse imitation as culture appropriation. Cultural appropraition sets to take from a group and erase any trace of the former. That is not flattery.

  • apple

    its one thing to borrow its another to steal the work of an indigenous group then exploit it and get all the credit while de-voiding all original meaning, and i’m sick of white people (especially hipsters) doing this to other groups. white people go vacation to see africa or some other poor land to jack all their threads to sell at 1500 dollars a pop.while giving nothing back to the originals

    once against my culture is not a trend

  • Libby

    Oh No not the dreaded hair argument. Chile please.

    They tan, get lip and butt injections, get curly perms. So..please. stay on topic.We are not talking about no damn hair.
    There is a big difference between appropriating someone culture for profit and the people from that culture can’t make a damn dime of their OWN culture. What is wrong with you people? Half of us don’t know we have something special until the white woman and men tell you and the other half are too obvious to know in the first damn place.

    When black people have the same damn access to create wealth off their OWN culture we will stop talking. Until than, it ain’t going to happening, I can’t believe you came in here talking about some damn hair like it was a deep thought.

  • QCastle


    Which indigenous people are you talking about? Indigenous should not be a short hand for non white. White folks are indigenous to Europe like blacks are to Africa. Who decides what is borrowing and stealing? Its an inspired look. Get off your high horse girl.

  • QCastle


    Not sure who exactly should receive royalties for these prints. Its a ridiculous notion. These designers dont need to hire Africans. There isnt some special magic African designers can bring. What will happen is these prints and patterns will be in style and Africans who do sell these fabrics and prints in their shops will benefit from their speciality being a hit item. It isnt that dam serious.

    I cant really deal with yet another reason to be angry at white folks. Its boring.

  • Libby


    @cupcakes and shiraz I am the Queen of England. We can be whatever we want on the intrawebs, honey. ;)

  • QCastle


    When you say, “They would rather buy your style for Donna ( white) than from Dayanne Danier ( Haitian)” who are you talking about? The same people, many of whom are black, who would call you an African booty scratcher if you wore that but think its fly when they see it on a white woman in Vogue magazine.

    No one is saying African design needs a white Ambassador but these white designers have an international market and audience for their clothes.

  • CurlySue

    I notice a lot of people use the fact that white women get lip injections and they tan as proof that they’re attempting to look black. I think that’s false. Full lips are considered attractive by every culture. So for a woman to want that look is normal, no matter her skin color. One of the over-arching features of attractiveness worldwide is large eyes and full lips. Also, in regards to tanning, that has a more historical reason. You see, 100 years ago, being pale was very “de rigeur” because it intimated that you didn’t have to work out in the sun. It was a status symbos. Now, being tan signifies that you have the leisure time to be out in the sun engaging in various and sundry outdoor activities. Again, a status symbol. Being tan says “I’m not stuck at my cubicle desk all day”. It really has nothing to do with attempting to look like a different race. If that was the case, than blonde highlights on white women wouldn’t be one of the number one requests at salons.

  • QCastle


    You guys are right. Hair is not the same as fashion. Copying someone’s hair style is actually far far worse and insidious.

    “They tan, get lip and butt injections, get curly perms.”

    Trying to look like a Puerto Rican or an Arab I guess.

  • Jasmine T.

    True, I feel that if you are going to make money off of exploiting a cultures ”fashion” sense, then you should also pay them (in a way that is appropriate for them) for the ideas that you are using. Out of respect.

  • QCastle


    What your saying isnt necessarily true. Not sure about the desireability of full lips but they are more associated with feminine rather than masculine beauty. Ditto large wide set eyes. With regard to tanning, I would never say a white woman wanted to look or be black with a tan. They tan just enough to look like they come from Sicily or Lebanon not Sudan or Nigeria. In terms of the curly perms, again, maybe an Arab girl or a bi-racial black and white but not a black woman. Its too much of a stretch. I think black women need to dead that rebuttal. It makes us feel good but on closer inspection, it just doesnt pan out.

  • CurlySue

    I’m not sure how it would be possible to pay anyone for these designs. They weren’t created by one person, fashion house, or even one specific culture (as Africa is a huge and diverse continent). I mean, should rappers start paying hipsters for appropriating their love of skinny jeans? Or should Nicki Minaj pay Japan for her love of Harajuku culture? No one culture is more precious or sacred than another. If I do have to begin paying every culture that I’ve ever worn clothes inspired by, I’d be broke! How much DO I owe the ancient Greeks for those toga parties I went to in college?

  • CurlySue

    Sorry Q, I meant it to be understood I was talking about universal feminine beauty with the lip injections bit. Yeah, obvy a man with big doe eyes and pouty lips wouldn’t really get my juices flowing lol.

  • mahogany

    There is a lot of truth in what you said. Although it is easier for an household name like Burberry to make it a “trend” or fashionable.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Cultural appropriation and the acculturation of it can work two ways as far as I see it.
    1.) A culture and its people can be exploited for the benefit of the dominant culture or
    2.) A culture and its people can be wonderfully incorporated into the dominant culture, and due respect and homage is paid.

    In this case, unfortunately, it’s the former that happens. Exploitation! Case and point, the model in the gray skirt, cast in the jungles of Africa, with bewildered Maasai’s looking on in amazement. The problem with this is, that the Maasai’s are used as PROPS! Which means they are NEVER COMPENSATED! These people have a rich cultural heritage that never gets to see the light of day, as they are just mere fashion accessories. It is what it is.

    Anne Slowey’s statement is just so ignorant, I have come to accept it as being normal ignorant lingo. What in the world, does “Spear or no spear, these looks are pinpoint perfection” mean?! Well, it just means primitive. They will not say it to your face that the Maasai culture is so, but that’s exactly what it means. Read between the lines people.

    No says that imitation is the best form of flattery, TRUE very TRUE but at what cost?!
    Usually when you read these magazines, they do not reference the cultural background that served as inspiration. If anything, they lump as all together and say ridiculous statements such as “our inspiration was the tribes people of Africa”. Eh, we are NOT a monolith people or continent.

    As an African people, we may share nearly the same cultural sets of beliefs and value systems, but I cannot begin to tell you how intricate and complex each of the country’s cultures are. To capture that, and tell us that “the tribes people” from Africa served as inspiration is a complete lie, and just laziness on their part. Moreover, I HATE that term-tribes people. It denotes, a primitive, underdeveloped culture! Aiyaiyaiyai!!!!

    Would I ever buy from these stores, absolutely NOT! I only support stores which are genuine in their cultural appropriation-which for the most in the West is none!

  • Yb


    Thank you!

  • Libby

    @ QCastle

    Sigh. Typical. somehow we talk about cultural appropriation and it comes back to what’s wrong with Black Women. SMH. My response was to someone talking about BLACK HAIR and my examples dead on.

    @ QCastle

    You are proud that some one can further exploit Haiti and deem it as a sign of progress. SHM. Um.. okay. You need to stop.

    @ CurlySue you are trying to explain why white women alter their looks, but had nothing to say on the comment about black women’s hair. Please stop the foolishness

  • Li



  • mahogany

    “1.) A culture and its people can be exploited for the benefit of the dominant culture or
    2.) A culture and its people can be wonderfully incorporated into the dominant culture, and due respect and homage is paid.”

    African Mami, I could not have said it better. You hit the nail on that one.
    It’s funny how history always repeats itself. The same thing happened in art. Western culture has always referred to African art as primitive yet they had no problem stealing our art and adored Picasso who’s art was mostly based on cubism which was inspired from african art.

    While I like the fact that the african prints are getting more exposure in the fashion industry I would love to see African designers and the African continent benefiting from it. This one of the reasons a read magazines like Arise, New African Woman or Black Fashiz when it comes to modern African Fashion. I rather support an african designer first.

  • CurlySue

    @Libby, I didn’t respond to the hair bit but I was talking about a trend I noticed in the comments section in general, not your specific comment. But I will respond on the hair bit, if you’d like.

    I don’t believe that when black women get weaves they’re attempting to look white. That’s preposterous. There are numerous reasons why a black woman would get a weave. Perhaps she’s growing her natural hair out and wants to give it rest, perhaps a weave is simply easier to manage, maybe she likes running her fingers through her hair, likes the look of long hair, etc etc. I never said that black women were trying to look like white women. My point was that white women are conversely not trying to look like black women.

  • Libby


    No one is saying African design needs a white Ambassador but these white designers have an international market and audience for their clothes.

    Yes, you are and the fact you don’t realize that there is a economic component is quite disturbing.

    The same people, many of whom are black, who would call you an African booty scratcher if you wore that but think its fly when they see it on a white woman in Vogue magazine.

    Well let’s see. If I accepted your premise I would say. I rather be called anAfrican booty scratcher all the way to the bank, than be called one and lining Donna Karen’s pockets based on your comments on THIS topic. You are speaking from the view of the consumer, not the entrepreneur. Sorry, I don’t get the let them use me, till they use me up and HOPEFULLY there are straps left for me.

  • Dalili

    Well said @African Mami!

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    @ QCastle,

    Donna Karan and em are just EXPLOITING your culture! Nothing more, nothing less. Stop making a case for her!

  • Ms. Information

    Black people talk all this stuff about white people stealing “culture” — Let’s not forget the fact that African Americans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Africans et cetera (black people of the diaspora) barely trust each other and refuse to come together or even acknowledge that we are of the same “cloth” so to speak….We really need to start cleaning in house first….we don’t even have a united front as black people.

  • Libby

    Great post..

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Wow, how do I address this sensitively without seeming as if I am condoning our behavior.

    The ethnic/cultural rift and divide between us as a people, can be traced back to colonialism and slavery. I am not wholly blaming the past for our present, but it does need to be acknowledged that it has played a major role in the conquer and divide mentality amongst us. Now, that those days are far behind us, we continue to perpetuate this nonsensical rift. It’s basically, a God help us all situation at this point. But, I don’t think that because of the disunity we shouldn’t address other issues.

  • real

    You’re right.
    Also, I love that Jay-Z song that samples Forever Young by Erasure. And the one that samples from Annie. And the one that samples from Steve Miller. And the one that samples Blondie. The way he laid a drum beat over it and said “Uh….Uh” was the epitome of creativity.

  • Ms. Information

    @ African Mami – you are my girl, I love reading your posts…I just can’t blame slavery anymore for the divisions. Black people are smart enough to realize that the divisions are made on purpose. Yet, I hear African Americans call Africans “african booty scratchers”, I hear Africans call african american women “keisha’s”…Yes white colonialism initiated the divide – but we willingly maintain it.I agree with you to a certain extent, its hard to address certain issues when people see that we kill each other, leave each other with children, et cetera..I hear talk show hosts like Hannity and Boortz discuss the divisions all the time. I think that issues can be addressed, but because of the divide, they don’t hold weight.

  • Liz

    Yes, Qon, I know you’re Haitian. The fact troubles me every time I read something attributed to you. Aside from that…there was nothing remotely “Haitian” about these looks, whatever that means. They looked “safari” inspired if anything. Not to mentioned, the dresses in the book retailed for 2,000+…I haven’t seen anything regarding how much of this is actually going to Haiti. I won’t question DK’s benevolence, but I really think she wanted to jump on the African prints trend, while also tugging on some heart strings. She chose a cause célèbre (or a former cause célèbre) and kilt a few birds with one stone. Riddle me this, how does an expensive dress “inspired by Haiti” (not using Haitian artists, designers, textiles) sold in Saks benefit the island? I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…Most people are in Haiti for their egos, religious guilt, or to fatten their wallets. A small number are there doing selfless work, usually very quietly and behind the scene. Which one do you think Donna Karan is?

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    I hear you mama, it’s just that I feel like if you are going to clean something as deep rooted as this, we might as well find the cause for it…no?! But, I hear ya loud and clear!

  • Leema

    What we think as the common West African “prints” actually came from Indonesia via the Dutch trade with West Africa. This was before Africa was ransacked for slaves and when Europeans traded items with different ethnic groups around the world without violence. If you look it up Indonesian prints and West African fabric prints look very similar. I’m pretty sure the original Africans who brought these fabrics from the Dutch were not “culturally” appropriating Indonesian culture or whatever and may have not known where it was even from in the first place. I would consider a a white person wearing something symbolic to a certain culture or tribe without permission as appropriation, not sure about something as general as prints (unless that is religiously sacred to a particular culture).
    We live in a globalized world, in which we are picking trends from different people as fast as possible. People did this way back than when they met new groups via migration case in point: Some ethnic Russian costume patterns/style may look similar to an ethnic Siberian’s costume and a Native American costume has similarities to a Siberian costume and this goes on and on. As humans, some of us embrace things that are different than us, such as the Africans who first brought those Indonesian prints (which was exotic to them) and it becomes part of their culture.

  • Liz

    @Mw…curiosity my boondah. They’ll see Donna Karan’s success with her spring line, and those with the money to do so will go over there and find a way to make more money.

    And just to keep it ALL the way real….if my post referenced Tracy Reese and a “Haiti inspired dress” in the Saks lookbook, I don’t question for a second that Qon would have take a different approach; don’t cosign her. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, google Tracy Reese.

  • http://www.incaseoffabulous.com Danah

    Went on a twitter rant about this. I am SO GLAD someone finally has something to say. Tired of the ‘tribal’ or ‘exotic’ print. WTH does that mean. Capitalizing on someone elses culture is WRONG.

  • Ms. Information

    I want to come outside of the intellect really quick….White women look very awkward in African prints…just saying…

  • http://cupofjo-jo.blogspot.com bk chick

    It’s funny…Urban outfitters just got sued by the Navajo for using their trademarked names and patterns..check out this link for the full story:


    If ppl are truly concerned about appropriation without the originators benefiting from the profit then I say band together and trademark the patterns and/or name..I’m not sure if this exists already but It should if it doesn’t…..

    I understand the feeling though. If all of a sudden it became a “thing” to eat rice, beans, griot and fried plantain (and by thing I mean super trendy amongst white people) it would annoy me…I even feel this way about music when I see these white artists making bank from basically imitating the stylings of blacks who were the originators (see elvis)…it was worse back then when blacks could not adequately profit from their own music…now that that’s not so much the case so it doesn’t bother me…I guess I do believe the point is that appropriation isn’t bad per se, I actually encourage sharing of culture. It’s the fact that credit is not given where its due, or people are treated as sub-human, or someone’s culture was used for profit, without the people of said culture receiving anything.

  • iQgraphics

    I honestly don’t believe that a more clear, concise argument can be made.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    @ Leema,

    -True story about the wax print having been an Asian cultural transplant that was successfully adopted and incorporated as being our own. In that event, were the Indonesians made to look like damn fools in the process, absolutely not! That’s where the problem lies.

    When we are alienated, from the whole process and we are just-for a lack of a better term, an end to their means-it’s really down putting.

    We live in a globalized world, which means that trade barriers have decreased, BUT that doesn’t mean that because we are now operating under “open economies” if you will-we negate the fact that culture is very “sacred”-especially in the motherland (not to say it isn’t in other places, I’m speaking from my experience), and should be respected! We are shown absolute disrespect, talking about spears and tribal wear. C’mon!!

  • Alexandra

    @Liz Yeah, she is not the only one doing that. I think I saw a similar ad in another mag last year. Lots of people trying to cash in on Haiti’s quake tragedy and no I don’t think it will benefit Haiti like some claim. All, or any attention isn’t good attention.

    Promoting Haitian made art, crafts, souvenirs are what will benefit Haitians, not a mock. There are lots of Haitian artisans that are eager and ready for someone to see their work.

  • apple

    when i say indigenous i mean the originals
    at least if your going to jack people threads give them the credit or hire them or honor its meaning instead of erasing it, i’m not on a high horse because i want people to be paid for their originality, if i am this kick rocks i dont give a f**k, respect people’s culture

  • Alexandra

    Great post Mami.

    “we may share nearly the same cultural sets of beliefs and value systems, but I cannot begin to tell you how intricate and complex each of the country’s cultures are”

    Agreeing with you a lot here ^.

  • Ms. Information

    Very good points! Indians stick together though…Black people would have that type of influence and front if we could stick together.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    LMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMAO!!!! Much love for that shallow handed comment….lawwwwd knows I thrive in those!!!

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    @ ffff,

    Your argument is real weak my brother or sista oo! This isn’t about it being right or wrong to wear Western/African clothes, heck it is not a competition. The issue here is, the continual cultural misappropriation and degradation!

    -By the way, congrats on being a millionaire. I like to see my pipoz doing it real big and proper. Now, get on that Forbes list magazine, and let’s get married.

  • Ms. Information

    It would have even been nice if they used Black models, damn. The prints look awkward on white skin tone. o_ O

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    @ bk chick

    You shut it down with this, right hurr!!! PREACH!!!!

    It’s the fact that credit is not given where its due, or people are treated as sub-human, or someone’s culture was used for profit, without the people of said culture receiving anything

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Matter of fact, why don’t we start an:

    #Occupy, I’m not subhuman, I’m all the way human

    trend on twitter in regards to this post. Let’s band and start a movement…..

  • fancypants

    I just think they’re making themselves look silly…

  • Georgia

    “Holland,” as in Dutch, as in colonizers, as in fabric that was originally exported to Africa and though made popular there, isn’t “African” fabric. As the author notes, these days a lot of it is made in Indonesia. Check out the work of Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare (http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/yinka_shonibare_mbe/how_to_blow_up_two_heads.php), who created pieces using this fabric dealing with these very issues of colonization/appropriation. So now European and American designers are co-opting these fabrics/designs. This one is an issue of cultural appropriation on the part of all concerned.

  • golden_girl

    Sweetie..u wouldn’t be sitting on American soil had not someone capatilized off the Native American’s entire culture.

  • Bisous

    When did I make this a case about being mad at white people?Also I am very well aware that Africa is varied and quite diverse and I’m not attributing these quips to the entire continent. However a vast majority of people think Africa still consists of tribes and poverty stricken people. They are at fault, as I’m sure you know.
    Many of these design’s (even though they are bastardized watered down versions) CAN be traced. Like I said before most of them have intrinsic value, spiritual value and economic value and aren’t just for the sake of looking “chic”. They do have and impact on those who originally made them to wear, but these designers have no concern about that. I’m glad people think these designs are beautiful because they are, but I would like the people who are the source of “inspiration” for these collections to be recognized or given some sort of compensation. This isn’t an homage, it’s making a quick buck off of someone’s culture, religion and identity.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    @ Bisous,

    where is the love button, for your last comment?! LOVE IT!

  • Pseudonym

    @Cupcakes: …but Africans in Africa wear western-style clothes. Western-style clothes are worn just about everywhere! fffff does make a good point. People all around the globe make and wear jeans, which are originally from the USA.

    My question is, why aren’t more African designers doing this? and selling at a reasonable price? They have the connects for the textiles (and can probably even bargain for a fairer price), but from my experience, most African designers I find are based in London and only target the top couture market, so their prices are in the thousands…which I can’t afford.

    Fashion should be allowed to borrow whatever if wants. I don’t like the use of “tribal” unless it can be linked to an actual tribe. If not, it should be called West African, Ghanaian, or whatever it actually is.

  • edub

    I can see it now…CLUTCH INDIA…”Black Women Wearing My Mother’s HAIR”

  • E.M.S.

    I have mixed feelings about it. While it is important to protect and respect other cultures, in a way I can see it as a compliment that someone is interested in the styles/patterns enough to want to create clothing from it. Perhaps they’re just going about it the wrong way.

  • Beautiful Mic

    I wonder which native African fabric print patters are truly and not European patterns marketed and embraced by native Africans (Vilsco/Dutch/West-Central Africa).

    My mother had some fabulous printed wraps way back in the day, of which I have never seen another. I wonder if they were Vilsco or actual native/ethnic prints.

    My auntee gave me some traditional dresses from West Africa that I ended up giving away because of the style they were made in. I wish I would have kept them to repurpose the fabric. However, I saw the exact same pattern in one of the dresses she gave me use in some Rwandan-made purses.

    I thought that certain patterns were supposed to be indicative, specific, to certain tribes or cultures (or nations).

  • http://losingsmartly.wordpress.com Alyssa

    @golden_girl. wow

  • isola

    So I guess I can’t wear an Asian inspired outfit. I as a black woman love Asian art, culture and elements of their fashion. Who cares if a white woman puts on an African print, good for her. Should Africans stop wearing western fashions? We are way too obsessed with race. It is really consuming too much of our energy.

  • modern lady


    Whose profiting off of Native Americans? It’s not most Americans today (esp. not African Americans). And there are quite a few Native Americans making billions off of us through casinos, small term loans and other niche industries (which mainly target poor people).

    I think a better example of how Native Americans are exploited would be all the sports teams that capitalize off of the image of Native Americans. THAT is exploitation.

  • leonard smalls

    Interesting comment; however, allow me to add the following:

    1. Your discomfort arguably stems from your lack of power to control the current “trends.” Unfortunately, voicing your discomfort may sadly be a reflection of your inability to form a coherent front with others to address your power imbalance; and

    2. Being reactionary in your approach to problem solving only empowers your adversaries.

  • Mikashawn

    “What will happen is these prints and patterns will be in style and Africans who do sell these fabrics and prints in their shops will benefit from their speciality being a hit item. It isnt that dam serious.

    I cant really deal with yet another reason to be angry at white folks. Its boring.”

    What’s funny is that you actually think the Africans who originated the prints with benefit at all. If that was a possibility, don’t you think they would’ve by now? So there’s a trademark office that makes sure that artists work is credited and paid for appropriately? There are lawyers that will sue designers who steal these designs? Guess what – white designers reproduce the designs because they can and who is going to stop them. You? It’s highway robbery and yes, we should be mad that white people get away with robbing yet another thing from Africa and its heritage.

  • Naija4ever

    I don’t know how I feel about this either. On one hand i’m loving the fact that it’s gaining recognition. If you look on Urban Outfitters, they are selling this bathing suit and you can automatically tell where the style influence is from based on the print. To be honest If I had the $$$ I’d buy it in an instant. I like that I can be able to go to a store and pick up a style that I like and that is also a part of my culture, where in the past I wouldn’t have been able to.
    Like others have mentioned I feel like this is a gateway in allowing us to see more African designers in the fashion world and Africa in general. The perception about Africa is beginning to expand/change. Africa is beginning to be appreciated for its diversity and slowly but surely hopefully the stereotypes will diminish with time.


    The fact that it’s now considered a “trend” is a bit off putting because for us it isn’t some sort of trend, it’s our culture, it’s our fashion, and for our moms, aunts, and grandmas it will always remain that way, long after the “tribal/exotic” train has left.

  • Naija4ever

    “Magazines spreads scream the need to Get Into The Wild or Be Wild at Heart or Become Wild Things. Anne Slowey’s Fashion Know It All column on how to wear African prints ended with this sentence that made me spit and cry: ‘Spear or no spear, these looks are pinpoint perfection’. ”

    On second thought…

    (should’ve read the rest of the article before posting my comment, -__- *sigh* i’m torn. )

  • Heather

    All the tribal this, primal that… it’s like Heart of Darkness in the modern day. Haven’t we progressed beyond the days of Africa as the dark continent?

  • me

    it’s simply because white people have no culture.
    point blank period.
    EVERYTHING that black people do are carried into the mainstream and then deemed “new”.

    white people have no culture, just they look to the amazing blacks who have so much innate sass, swag, fashion & style.

    We can’t complain.. we are trendsetters. They have no one else to follow.

  • makesyougohmmm


    Some of these “African” prints are actually Dutch interpretations of Indonesian designs that were brought to Europe but which did not become popular at the time. They eventually made their way to some African countries, where they were adapted and popularized.

    “Appopriation” makes the world go round. Get off your high horse. The backbone of current day American societal culture is a mish mash of various European customs, philosophies with pop culture overlays of African, Native American cultures/customs interspersed. I expect more asian influence once China eclipses the U.S. as the new economic powerhouse and more asian immigrants come here.

    PS – western culture is NOT universal culture. Western culture is indeed european culture which eventually gravitated to considering itself a universal culture because of the enlightenment period and other philosophical movements in Europe that was exported to other countries and adapted to fit in their own culture.

    Learn some history for crying out loud. Modern society exists today exactly because of the exchange of ideas, innovations, philosophies.

  • http://www.heritage1960.com Enyinne O.

    Appropriation is what fuels creativity. Absolutely nothing is orginal in its own right. A designer, an artist, a musician (etc…) gains inspiration from something, somewhere and (hopefully) interprets this to make it their own.

    I’m an African woman and I’ve lived/traveled around the world. I’ve consistantly seen African inspired art, clothing, music, you name it. Au contraire, it actually warms my heart that our culture has such strong and far-reaching influence both within and outside of our continental boundaries. (Actually, African influence within our own culture is a whole other topic, because sadly and very generally speaking, Africans do not appreciate what we inherently create until we are given a “Western” stamp of approval…but not to digress…)

    We (as Africans) really can not lay claim to Wax Print materials, also known as Hollandaise Wax, because we borrowed this from Indonesian culture and in turn made it our own (of sorts). I say of sorts because the leading and most well known/influential manufacturer of Wax Prints, Vlisco, is headquartered in the Netherlands and as recently as last year they did not have one single African, let alone black person, working on its corporate team (a friend worked there last summer, which is how I know). Yet Vlisco dictates the styles, prints, and colors that we love, gravitate towards, and in turn call African…although it is not.

    African culture is a beautiful thing…why limit it to only ourselves to appreciate? I would more so love to see those designers, both African and non-African, that choose to draw influence from Africa dig deeper into African culture for forms of inspiration. “African” wax print and imbiguous “tribal” mentions should not be the end all. We have so many beautiful textiles and resources that are underutilized.

    Regardless of race and culture, using African textiles and resources (especially those that are truly inherent to African culture and sourced from Africa) helps to promote both economic prosperity on the continent and a better + brighter understanding of African culture that goes beyond the negative and sad portrayals of our people.

  • TypicalBlackWoman…

    Very true. At the end of the day – there is no truly “pure” culture. Heck, perhaps a good third of women of African descent are wearing hair from the Indian subcontinent and most Native Americans you walk by on any given day is outfitted in a pair of western jeans. I think the point is that we should be careful to give credit where credit is due.

  • Socially Maladjusted

    “With regards to wax prints and Africa it always it bandies about the word ‘tribal’ framing African culture as one that exists in only the most primitive sense.”

    What’s wrong with so called tribal and primitive? those are only perjorative words among westerners (black and white) who think this system is the pinnacle of human achievement.

    It’s not,

    Western culture is a death culture with a death system that will destroy the earth if it’s allowed to continue.

    Next point

    Can’t see why how any black woman could object to white women appropriating Afrocentric fashion.

    I’m sure I don’t need to spell out why so let’s weave it at that.


  • Socially Maladjusted

    In fact, from now on I’ll use the term death culture when I’m speaking of western culture, The term western culture is too neutral and even friendly a term to describe a culture of savages who are hell bent on wiping out every living thing on earth in the name of their gluttonous consumption.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    @ Enyinne O.

    Regardless of race and culture, using African textiles and resources (especially those that are truly inherent to African culture and sourced from Africa) helps to promote both economic prosperity on the continent and a better + brighter understanding of African culture that goes beyond the negative and sad portrayals of our people.

    My sister,
    Which economic prosperity is this you talk of?!
    What understanding, other than Maasai’s are really cool and can jump high in the air?!

    Let’s keep it 100. We are being pawned!

  • http://www.heritage1960.com Enyinne O.

    Hi African Mami,

    Here are a few examples to substantiate my reference to economic prosperity as aforementioned (I’m leading with a white owned company, since your perspective is regarding theft from our culture…however, I have further provided both white and black owned examples below) :

    Indego Africa provides education, resources, commendable wages, and sustainable employment to female artisans in Rwanda, where they manufacture a range of lifestyle products made from textiles and natural resources sourced locally. In addition, Indego Africa links American retailers and brands to their artisans for additional employment, including global brands such as Anthropologie, Ralph Lauren, and Nicole Miller. Every item purchased through Indego Africa is signed by the artisan who crafted it and comes with a short story providing background and knowledge of the materials used for the product.

    Here are some other examples of brands (regardless of race and culture) who manufacture, if not entirely in, a portion of their collections in Africa. Furthermore, when the below brands utilize African textiles, they provide context, meaning, and relevancy to the textiles they have chosen (note, they have all achieved global recognition as well):

    Jewel By Lisa (jewelbylisa.com.ng)
    Afia (shopafia.com)
    Maki Oh (maki-oh.com)
    Suno (sunony.com)
    Loza Maleombho (lozamaleombho.com)
    Edun (edun.com)
    Oliberte (oliberte.com)

    Read Jacqueline Shaw’s Africa Fashion Guide to further educate yourself on brands that promote economic sustainability in Africa. Jacqueline and her team provide a culturally inclusive viewpoint, so you will see examples coming from both Africans and non-Africans. http://www.africafashionguide.com

    So to answer your question, my dearest Global Mami…

    The above is just a glimpse into what I speak of, when I speak of “promoting economic prosperity on the continent and a better + brighter understanding of African culture.”…regardless of race.

    I prefer to counter the argument of “theft from our culture” with stories of praise for those who are promoting the beauty of African culture and the sustainability of our economic prowess…otherwise, this dual-sided reality will become buried behind a more narrow perspective, which is often times the most vocal.

    Enyinne Owunwanne

  • http://www.girlsbestfriendandcoblog.com Thefashionistachic

    The operative word is spring line. W hich probably explains the light weight fabric. These are status brands and quite frankly they are probably not meant to be worn for more than a season or two. I think you are making way too much to do about nothing.

  • So Over This Ish

    I agree with you, Enyinne O.

    While every culture is unique, we can’t deny that all cultures borrow certain elements from one another and adapt/incorporate it into their own styles.

    I’m of partial Jamaican heritage. I see people of all races and ethnicities, people who aren’t even Jamaican, rocking dreadlocks without understanding the significance behind it. It’s not just a “hairstyle”. I see people wearing Bob Marley t-shirts when they probably aren’t familiar with his music and what he represented on an Afrocentric level. I hear people quoting Marcus Garvey without acknowledging that he was Jamaican. Sometimes it bothers me to see a part of my culture being appropriated and turned into a commodity…but in the end, this is what people do.

    I’ve worn kente cloth myself a long time ago. My mother dated a guy from Ghana when I was a kid. I believe that as long as a person respects and understands the culture from which they are borrowing, there should be no problem. It is only when there is disrespect and a lack of knowledge that it becomes problematic.

    I love Native American jewelry, especially some of the Zuni and Navajo pieces. I have educated myself extensively on the struggles of Native American people in the United States and First Nations people in Canada. I have immense respect for the beauty of Native American culture, but I see nothing wrong with incorporating elements of it into my personal style.

    I wouldn’t walk around in a dashiki but I would rock a few African pieces because they’re beautiful AND because I’m paying homage to the diversity of Africa. It really isn’t as deep as some folks make it out to be.

  • So Over This Ish

    BTW…I love the outfit on the far right. The bow in her hair is cute, too! :)

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