Monthly Archives: May 2011

Cultural Appropriation or Cultural Appreciation? An Introduction

Before starting our cross-cultural enterprise with f.a.c.t.s., we thought long about the problems of cultural  appropriation and how it is distinct from cultural appreciation. We, at f.a.c.t.s., want to give you confidence in our products and confidence in our business ethics, and we figured it would be most appropriate to simply address this issue right at the start! Because this will be a fairly long topic (we want to make sure we are thorough in our explanations), we will have to break it down into a few parts. Today, we will focus on introducing the topic. Please, feel free to join in on the conversation! Ask us any questions that you have. We will be happy to answer your concerns and address your opinions!

Let us first begin with definitions. What is cultural appropriation, in the first place? Appropriation, at its most basic level, has to do with the borrowing of traditions, symbols, or other artifacts, from cultures other than our own. It doesn’t really seem so bad, at first, considering we live in an increasingly globalized world, where cultural assimilation inevitably happens all the time. The tricky part, in our opinion, lies with the motivation for adopting the cultural element (whether it is the South African mbaqanga style of music, or the hijab) and who is doing the borrowing. It definitely changes the meaning when people from a dominant culture start assimilating elements from a subculture (i.e., when a white American might try to pass off wearing a bindi, because it “looks exotic”) when they are ignorant of the significance of those cultural elements, and even more so when they do not have respect for the people (they see the culture as an object disassociated from the people themselves). When you extract a cultural element without knowing the context behind it, you end up, whether you mean to or not,

  1. contributing to often offensive generalizations about the cultural group,
  2. invalidating how very diverse a culture really is,
  3. ignoring the history of oppression that is probably present, thus reinforcing the oppression, and
  4. often misrepresenting or distorting traditions that, for all you know, could even be sacred to the group, and
  5. in some cases, you might actually be cheating others out of money that should be going to them.

These 5 negatives of cultural appropriation make it a harmful and irresponsible thing to do.  Another more familiar word for these 5 negatives happens to be called “exploitation.” In the West, we have a long history of exploiting other cultures and marching through life with a very self-important and either unaware or (often) indifferent attitude that the world and everything in it is ours for the taking, but not the taking care of…

So, how do we account for these 5 negatives of cultural appropriation in a world that is becoming smaller and smaller? Is there a way to show appreciation of a culture without stepping on sensitive toes and reinforcing bad caricatures and negative stereotypes? Find out answers to these questions and how f.a.c.t.s. is doing things differently in our next couple of posts!

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Welcome to our official blog~ Notes from the Authors

Hello, readers! We’re so excited to be getting this blog started, and even more excited to be starting the f.a.c.t.s. website (coming mid-June, we’ll keep you updated!).  We know you are all wondering what exactly f.a.c.t.s. is about. How in the world can fashion, of all things, ally cultures together, and what on earth does “through sustainability” mean? Well, we have set up an extensive about page, products page, and business ethics page you can peruse. We will also be posting, over the next few days, on our vision and principles in more detail. For right now, though,  we (cofounders and partners of f.a.c.t.s) want to offer you a bit about ourselves and our perspectives on f.a.c.t.s.–how it coincides with our own personal values, and how, if everything goes somewhat according to plan, f.a.c.t.s. can be such an effective tool for change!

Zulema’s Story:

My name is Zulema Ibarra. I am currently in the last stages of finishing my Master’s Degree in Social Sciences, with an emphasis in Anthropology. Only my thesis left! I have long been involved in various community initiatives for change, from social justice rallies and campaigns, to writing a curriculum for a domestic violence nonprofit program. I have also long held a conviction that real sustainable change cannot happen without mobilizing ordinary people, like you and me, to do our part to improve our communities and, in turn, our personal quality of life. But, as I am intimately familiar with the struggle of having no time and living paycheck to paycheck, I know that “doing our part” to help change our communities is both vague and daunting. There are so many issues that need to be fixed and after working (or studying or both) all day, there’s hardly energy left to devote ourselves to volunteering, and no extra money for donating to causes, no matter how worthy the cause!

Out of these frustrations, the vision for f.a.c.t.s. was born. I had to do something to quell my activist-minded conscience now, not in five or ten years when I would be settled into a comfortable but hectic professor’s life, not when I would finally write and publish that New York Times bestseller, and certainly not when a billionaire would miraculously find me and decide to sponsor my grandiose ideas for change.  My applied anthropology classes trained me with tools to help communities achieve the change they envision. I knew I could put those tools to use immediately, but what would my focus be? I couldn’t possibly solve all the world’s problems. But then, I’ve always been interested in big pictures and my dreams always somehow ended with me pursuing a million things at once. It was possible to change a big chunk of the earth, I finally decided, if I changed one community at a time and made it a life endeavor that would eventually be carried on by many other groups around the world. Yes, I would use rapid assessment instruments (social science tools to help quickly evaluate community needs and develop more effective and comprehensive plans for social action) and slowly go about the globe. But I still needed the big bucks.

How to make money? A business! I figured I could start an eco-friendly fashion business that was somehow more affordable than the usual $200 organic dresses  I coveted from various green online stores. People had to clothe themselves, after all. Why not make green fashion affordable and accessible? I though about ideas of making the items reflect other cultures, to somehow provide a different edge to the fashion industry and support cultural diversity. Then, I realized, wait a minute, people around the world are already making these items. I could buy items from them, then, in anthropological fashion, go to their local communities and help them construct a needs assessment and plan of action for improving a social issue. After six months, I’d  give back half of the profits to their communities so that they could get their plan of action going! And if they wanted to continue business with me, I’d keep giving back half of their profits to their community fund, while continuing on to the next community and expanding the fashion line!

I dreamed on, for a while, until I happened to impart my idea with my good friend and colleague, Marlaina Dreher. She only had to say one thing, “That’s totally doable,” and my impatient imagination started dragging my lofty ideas to earth. We worked together to iron out all the wrinkles and came up with our f.a.c.t.s. company: an online retail shop where people can buy different fashion creations from around the world for a relatively affordable price while putting their money to good use and helping to support local economies and communities around the world! And that, my friends, is the journey of my vision for a socially responsible business.

Marlaina’s Story:

Hello! I am Marlaina Dreher.  I am also finishing a Master’s Degree in Social Science.  My concentration is in Sociology.  I have always known that I wanted to do more applied work than traditional research whenever I finished my education and I have spent countless hours planning and working on my future projects; my babies as I call them.  I have been involved as an advocate in countless political and social issues groups, campaigns, and non-profit organizations; particularly dealing with low income populations, women’s issues and more recently the autism community.  And I dreamed of the day when I could open my own agency that helped alleviate some of the social problems that our world is facing.  And for a while I did not realize that I could start fulfilling that dream right away.  I felt like I had to wait, until I was older, or until I had finished a doctoral degree.  But I realized that I did not have to wait to begin doing my part to make the world a better place.

Part of my vision has been to aid and educate populations; to teach people that they can live the lives that they want to live without compromising their values or the earth.  Humankind needs to learn that progress does not require us to exploit other people or the environment.  We can move forward and improve the quality of life of our species without destroying the planet and without destroying the lives and livelihood of others.  And there are simply ways we can all do this from the biggest wealthiest corporation to the most impoverished individual.  We can all be a part of this movement away from exploitation.  These have been the guiding principles in everything that I do.  As a student from a working class background I knew that I would also need to figure out a way to support myself during my long journey to Ph.D. (which is still not even close to being over) so I began brainstorming about business ideas that I could do while I was still in school and that hopefully would allow me to use the skills I had learned training to be a sociologist.

I had always had a secret ambition for fashion and I often thought that in a world without barriers I would have loved to create vintage inspired fashion that everyone could afford.  But that did not seem to be a dream that would be coming real anytime soon and so I tried to think of ideas that were plausible in the immediate future.  At the same time Zulema had told me about some sari inspired wrap skirts that were very versatile and inexpensive and I began researching them on the internet as a consumer.  Because they were so beautiful, ecologically friendly, and could be worn in so many different styles I thought they would be a great addition to my summer wardrobe.  After finding some retailers and wholesalers that had them I finally realized that I could purchase these items from a wholesaler and earn a small income selling them myself.  At this point Zulema approached me with the idea of creating a business and a socially conscious business model and I thought it was a great idea.  So the wraps became our first product.  From this F.A.C.T.S. was born with the idea of bringing some social responsibility and purpose to fashion; fashion that does not exploit but rather helps to benefit the culture that inspired or created it.  And I am very excited to be a part of this pioneering effort to incorporate a system of social accountability, cooperation, and charity into our business model.

We will be blogging consistently about things we hold dear to our hearts, as well as the progress of our soon-coming website, so come back and check with us often! Follow us on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, too!

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