From a viral boutique that was previously named “The Spunky Squaw” to Victoria’s Secret runway looks complete with fake headdresses, influence from Native culture is both everywhere in fashion and almost always appropriated. Most recently, an Italian jewelry company drew criticism when it released its new line, titled Native, which featured white models draped with fake regalia, including war bonnets and turquoise.
There exists a plethora of talented Indigenous beaders, weavers, metalworkers, and designers. One such is Bethany Yellowtail, a Crow and Northern Cheyenne designer based in Los Angeles, who launched her own line of clothing, B. Yellowtail, in 2014 after interning and working for various LA-based brands. Her line blends traditional, authentic designs with modern styles to create pieces that can be worn by Natives and non-Natives alike. Widely regarded as the most prominent contemporary Indigenous fashion designer, Yellowtail launches a new collection of original pieces a few times a year. More recently in 2016, she launched the B. Yellowtail Collective, a “platform which features handmade goods created by Native American & First Nations artists and entrepreneurs.” The Collective empowers Native artists by providing them with a means to promote and sell products and accessories such as jewelry, scarves, handbags, and hats.
Yellowtail stated in a 2017 interview with the Los Angeles Times that her line is a response to appropriated fashion. Likewise, many Indigenous artists advise the public to combat cultural appropriation in the same way: support Native artists, not unauthentic “Native” items.
But what is the harm when it comes to appropriation of Native culture in fashion? Firstly, it negatively affects the visibility of Native artists. Native artists often cannot find a platform willing to sell their products because of the comparative cheapness of “Indian” items sold by retailers and non-Native parties. Secondly, it contributes to harmful stereotypes about Native culture and perpetuates them further by promoting fake jewelry and clothing pieces and marketing them as “authentic” when in reality they are created by non-Natives who do not understand the meaning or practice behind such pieces. Thirdly, appropriated styles suggest that “Native” style can be categorized as one defined subgenre of fashion, when in reality there are more than 562 tribes that exist in the United States alone that each possess distinct practices, designs, materials, and regalia, and not just one “Native” aesthetic. Many aspects of the fashion world display a fascination with Indigenous art and culture, yet rarely include actual Indigenous peoples in dialogue, process, or design.
Bethany Yellowtail’s website is www.byellowtail.com
Photos by Charlie Gleberman, TD ’22.
Matriarch Scarf by B. Yellowtail
Black Arrow CrossBody Bag with Fringe, by Maya Stewart via B. Yellowtail Collective, dentalium earrings via B. Yellowtail Collective (style not available)
Sun Road Woman Dress by B. Yellowtail, dentalium earrings