Let’s all say it together – “Native Americans continue to get exploited”.  Whether it is with land disputes like the recent protests of the North Dakota pipeline, or healthcare and education, indigenous people in America are constantly relegated to having their culture, history and heritage constantly exploited for profit by corporations and even the government. Now it’s fashion.  For a long time, fashion designers from around the world have taken advantage of the beauty and depth of Native American culture.  Bethany Yellowtail, a Los Angeles-based fashion designer knows how it feels first hand.  Her designs were the topic of of discussion when London-based label Kokon to Zai (KTZ) debuted a dress that was considered by many in the fashion industry to resemble Yellowtail’s Crow-inspired creations. The controversy sparked protests from many Native American organizations and Tribal activists took to Twitter to protest.

The use of Tribal designs in mainstream fashion is nothing new.  In recent years major retailers and fashion brands have been involved in controversies related to Native American culture.  Victoria’s Secret caught major heat in the media by sending model Karlie Kloss striding down the runway in a feathered headdress and turquoise jewelry. Chanel outfitted its models in war bonnets in 2013.

The Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters in 2012 for using the word “Najavo” to describe Southwestern-style apparel and other goods, accusing it of violating trademark infringement and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. And Ralph Lauren drew fire in 2014 for using old photographs of tribal members to promote its RRL line.

Perhaps it is time for the fashion industry to consider how their actions impact the livelihood of indigenous people.

Check out Bethany Yellowtail at http://www.byellowtail.com/


Photo by Anthony "Throsh" Collins

Photo by Anthony “Thosh” Collins