I am a young(ish) man of mixed ethnicity, my mother is Jamaican and my Father from England. I have been running an ethical African fashion brand now for 7 years, that i might add, has made every single piece in Africa by African tailors and used fabrics all purchased in Africa by African owned fabric shops. Continent Clothing has supported the livelihoods of hundreds of interconnected people in Africa.
I wanted to share with you all my thoughts on cultural appropriation. Cultural Appropriation is the idea that there is something wrong and oppressive about people of one background adopting and adapting the artefacts of another.
Self-appointed cultural guardians would say white girls shouldn't have cornrows, Black People shouldn't wear Chinese fabrics and vice versa, or Miley Cyrus should stop twerking.
My household is a simple one, just me and my partner, wherever we decide to lay rest. We are a very well travelled couple and have a collection of beautiful things from around the world. Getting ready in the morning for us is a daily act of cultural appropriation. As my partner gets ready in the morning she puts on her Colombian jewellery. Meanwhile I start making coffee in our very Italian peculator. Just as we are walking out the door I may put on my Continent Clothing African trench coat and she may slip on her handmade Peruvian knitted Alpaca jumper. You get the idea, we wear and have many things from cultures we do not originate from.
As we sit in our eclectic cultural mix of a home or get ready in the morning in our clothing from various parts of the world we deeply appreciate the craftsmanship and design behind these items, as well as the adventures and people they recall. And while we hope we don’t offend anyone, we find the alternative—the idea that we ought to stay in the cultural lane we were born into—outrageous. We don’t want to live in a world where the only cultural inspiration we are entitled to comes from my roots in Jamaica, England, and Europe.
There are real and important reasons to tread carefully when dressing ourselves in the clothing, arts, artefacts, or ideas of other cultures. But please, let’s banish the idea that appropriating elements from one another’s cultures is in itself problematic.
Without cultural borrowing in the UK we would be without pizza, coffee, nachos, Japanese denim, Indian batik, African Print, the list is endless. Take Continent Clothing as an example. Without all of you amazing customers, not all of whom are black, Continent Clothing could not exist, and the fine tailors and fabric merchants would be without sustainable employment. Is it really worth losing people livelihoods for the sake of not wearing from a culture that you do not come from? And for the record, the people who make our clothing (all of whom are my friends and can be found here) absolutely love seeing people from around the world wearing a bit of Africa.. their culture.
I call on everyone who is proud of their culture to embrace other cultures borrowing elements of it. After all they are showing love and an interest for your culture, not stealing it...no one can take your culture away from you.