Fashion & Culture: Exchange or Appropriation

by: Obehi Imarenezor

In today’s society, knowing your roots is essential to self-awareness. Many people are seeking different outlets in order to be culturally fulfilled.

Let’s take a more in depth look.

Recently, African print has become a hot commodity, with many people in the media sporting tribal fashion. If you search the hashtag, #Dashiki on Instagram, you will find various photos of people rocking the traditional West African garment in their own taste with tennis shoes and even high heels. Celebrities such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Gwen Stefani have all had their fair share of exposure with Ankara print, a popular West and Central African fabric. But when did the uprise of this cultural exchange come about?

It traces back to the 90s, a more socially conscious time, where African-Americans were fed up with the status quo. Kenté cloth, from the Ewe tribe of Ghana, was one of the most famous African fabrics worn during these vibrant years. As time went on, the cultural climate began to change, and their affinity for more “cultured” looks began to vanish.


With history being known for repeating itself, Kente cloth along with other African wear has found its way back into today’s trends. However, in today’s society, is the trend known as cultural exchange as it was in the 90s, or just as cultural appropriation until the next trend comes about? Back then people analyzed the clothing, and sported these garments because of what they symbolized. That is cultural exchange. On the contrary, those who practice cultural appropriation lack a deeper understanding of the historical context of the fashions that they wear.

On a more personal note, as a Nigerian growing up, I was repeatedly ridiculed for my heritage. I personally find it intriguing how the roles have switched over time and my culture is now accepted. Which leads me to ask: Should the African community be skeptical or appreciative that people of other ethnicities are donning our cultural garbs? Tell us what you think!


2 thoughts on “Fashion & Culture: Exchange or Appropriation”

  1. A well done piece Obehi!
    The colors and content of the pictures adds greatly to the very interesting and topical subject.
    Great job!

  2. Great job OB! To answer your last question, both skeptical and appreciative would be valid outlooks because it’s a shame the society waited on the African cultural to trend to accept it, but the good part is that the African community can finally be accepted as they are, and even more there are people sporting there styles, which puts the African styles on a pedestal.

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