Apparel Industry and Cultural “Inspiration”

From a Tumblr Post: dynamicafrica

Found whilst going through my bookmarked links, I don’t recall how I came about Pikolinos and Olivia Palermo collaboration egregiously and lazily titled ‘Maasai Project’, but after reading through the website’s description and looking at the horribly styled safari and animal print lookbook featuring Palermo and Kikanae Ole Pere (or “William as he is known in the western world” – their words not mine), a Maasai community leader, I am sorry I ever stumbled upon this sight.

Pikolinos, a global shoe brand based in Spain, has employed Palermo as their ambassador for their Maasai Project – a sustainable fashion initiative that has tasked itself with improving the lives of Maasai people. A project that they claim has ‘sowed the seed of hope in the heart of Africa’.

Yes, because before there were white Europeans, hopelessness and despair was the order of the day in deep dark Africa and we were incapable of living fruitful and rewarding lives. Oh and, here’s some news: Kenya is the ‘heart of Africa’ (who the hell comes up with these ridiculous labels?!).

Aside from white saviourism, Pikolinos doesn’t give much reason for their particular interest in Maasai people and culture. However, foreigners and fashion brands seem to have a particular obsession with Maasai and Samburu aesthetics – from J. Crew and Louis Vuitton, to Emilio Pucci and Thakoon, so this is really nothing new. Then there are campaigns such as these that just don’t make sense on any level.

False claims of empowerment are instead rebranded with neo-colonialist imagery and statements that completely strip away any agency from the Maasai people.

This is not a stab at sustainable fashion but rather at the type of rhetoric and imagery that mars efforts that might otherwise be a step in a more positive direction.

It’s clear that not everyone’s read or heard of Binyavanga Wainaina’s ‘How Not to Write About Africa’.


The Maasai culture itself is so damn rich and iconic. One look at the first picture and I knew these disgusting white people were using the Maasai. The Maasai don’t even need this damn “help”. They’re one of the strongest and most resilient group of people and have been consistently praised for their farming techniques that allow them to have bountiful harvests in extremely dry and desert land.

In fact, the only major threat to the Maasai was colonialism. In fact the Maasai were known for being such fierce warriors and having such a strong stance against slavery (they NEVER enslaved people), that it was common belief that all Maasai land shouldn’t be even walked on by enslavers.

Fuck this campaign and fuck white people treating all African cultures as a trend.


This is precisely my concern with the apparel industry! Constantly we see tribal | ethnic styles, prints, patterns “trending” and they are, for the most part, always owned\operated\designed by these large corporations\industries where the only ethnic people involved are waaaay in the background and only used for inspirational purposes. I really am tired of seeing this imagery. It really shows you how tied-up\rigged-up this “system” is. Because this is the stuff that gets promoted. There are so many African designers in Africa and we never see their designs promoted like this. We are constantly being shown -this is the standard, the only way ethnic people can be seen (used). So many things have been taken and relabeled as inspiration for the profit of this greedy gold-digging humans that distort and misuse cultural exchange. We NEED to be talking about this.. Seeing this perspective. Because this is a reality. This is reality…


2 thoughts on “Apparel Industry and Cultural “Inspiration”

  1. Another post about designer Mara Hoffman:

    A great comment from a reader: Nia: Ditto on the respect issue. The fashion industry loves to pat itself on the back whenever it deems “ethnic” clothing and jewelry to be in style. The funny thing is they think that they are somehow paying tribute to these cultures! The “slave” earrings in Italian Vogue? Then when they are called out on their mess, they fall all over themselves to come up with some ridiculous statement about honoring the cultures that they steal from. Are you respecting African, Asian, and Chicano culture by charging thousands of dollars for your knockoff crap? Are you donating any of those earnings to help out those that you steal from? Yeah, I didn’t think so. As much as I love fashion, there is so much backwards thinking that I wonder how I can love it at all.

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