Is kid clothing brand frankie & sue crossing a line with Native Americans? (UPDATED)
In a world where every other outfit for a kid tends to be boring blue and brown for boys and pink for girls, it’s always exciting to get something new into the mix. What's not exciting is when a company goes to great lengths to completely appropriate another culture in order to do so. California-based children’s clothing company frankie & sue just debuted their fall '14 line, and it's a hot bed of Native American appropriation.
Children are pictured modeling the clothes while wearing war bonnets and face paint, dressed up to look like little Native Americans. According to the site, one of their "favorite pieces" is a $62 tamaya tunic, shown off by a little boy wearing a headdress. "Tamaya" is a Native American term, and my guess is that it's supposed to compliment the Navajo-inspired pattern. When you hop on over to frankie & sue's Fall '14 inspiration board on Pinterest, it's clear that they drew heavily from both Native American culture overall, and in particular the Navajo nation.
Here's the problem. These designs using Native imagery and design are being touted as "boho chic." While I can understand wanting to draw inspiration, what frankie & sue have done with these clothes and their styling has gone beyond an homage and straight into cultural appropriation. What does that mean? That means dressing kids up in "red face," using bonnets and headdresses as accessories when they are deeply spiritual and serve a particular and meaningful cultural significance in order to sell some clothing — in essence "playing Indian" for profit.
Native culture is not a trend, it is a deep, rich and complicated history with a vibrant present. It is not ours (not-Natives) to take and use to sell clothes, accessories, music, or anything else. The Canadian music festival, Bass Coast, recognized this when they banned the wearing of Native American-style headdresses out of "respect for aborignal people."
Perhaps the owners of frankie & sue didn't follow what happened with Urban Outfitters and the Navajo nation? When the clothing company started selling items like "Navajo hipster panties," dream catchers and having models don headdresses, they were taken not only to task, but to court by the Navajo Nation for trademark violations for misleading consumers into thinking that Urban Outfitter’s Navajo products were designed and made by actual Native Americans.
While frankie & sue haven't used the Navajo name in any of their design names, it's clear that they are swimming in incredibly murky waters when it comes to the way they're marketing their designs. Dressing up children in Native American war bonnets and makeup is both offensive and trivializing to the culture they’re supposedly being inspired by. For a company that actually has some cute and unique (albeit expensive!) designs, I am certain they can find a better, less appropriating way to show their inspiration.
UPDATED: frankie & sue have released the following statement: "We would like to acknowledge the controversy that has ensued since the launch of our F/W collection. Many fashion brands are inspired by one culture or another, and our Fall/Winter 2014 collection was simply intended to celebrate the beauty and history of the southwest. We want to thank those who graciously educated us on what culture appropriation means and how some of our photography may have been perceived. We have made the decision to change some of these images. We apologize for offending anyone."