How Fashion Firms Address Cultural Appropriation Problems - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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How Fashion Firms Address Cultural Appropriation Problems

How Fashion Firms Address Cultural Appropriation Problems

Have you ever worn clothes inspired by other cultures? Have you ever seen someone’s fashion and found your culture being used? For many years, the fashion industry has been faced with cultural appropriation problems that are “taking elements of someone’s culture without permission.”1 For example, Comme des Garçons, a Japanese fashion brand, has recently been criticized of cultural appropriation by asking white models to wear cornrows, a hairstyle popular with African-Amdericans. 2 When fashion brands sell products for profit, the use of racist design or motifs can lead to legal issues. These brands need to figure out ways to deal with these cultural appropriation problems.

Regarding the measures to deal with these issues, this blog post shall refer to a settlement between Prada and the NYC Commission on Human Rights. 3 In December 2018, one lawyer criticized Prada products for being racist. The products in question were “Pradamalia figurines that resembled monkeys in blackface.” 4 After significant criticism, Prada removed the products from the showcase5 and apologized, stating that the “Group never had the intention of offending anyone.” 6 However, Prada’s actions were not enough to deal with cultural appropriation. The settlement that the New York City Commission on Human Rights announced “requires that Prada invest in restorative justice efforts to combat anti-Black racism and promote diversity and inclusion in Prada’s business activities, advertising, and products.”7 It imposed training about human rights and reporting on Prada. As the brand is based in Milan, not the United States, it has been argued that one local institution has enough power to enforce or restrict the activities of foreign companies and individuals.8

The Commission is trying to settle with other fashion brands that have cultural appropriation problems, including Dior and Gucci.9 Dior has been criticized for its perfume called “Sauvage”—“savage” in English; it has used Native Americans and their culture for the perfume’s advertising.10

Gucci was also been criticized for cultural appropriation after it created a black balaclava knit jumper that “covered the lower half of the face and featured a red cut-out around the mouth.”11 As Prada did, Gucci removed its products and expressed deep regret.

The settlement is a helpful way to deal with cultural appropriation problems. It has already made many fashion brands more sensitive to cultural appropriation problems and improved their awareness of the issues. In the long run, the settlement will raise awareness of potentially controversial design motifs and help to prevent cultural appropriation problems before they arise.


  1. Raisa Bruner, Dior Criticized for Appropriating Native American Culture With ‘Sauvage’ Fragrance Ad, Time (Aug. 30, 2019), https://time.com/5665533/dior-sauvage-fragrance [https://perma.cc/4P3Z-MUCY].

  2. Comme Des Garçons: Row over White Fashion Models’ Cornrow Wigs, BBC News (Jan. 19, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51166873 [https://perma.cc/8KZP-SPJ5].

  3. NYC Commission on Human Rights Settles with Prada over Merchandise Line Containing Racing Imagery in Landmark Case Mandating Comprehensive Programs to Combat Anti-Black Racism, NYC Comm’n on Human Rights (Feb. 5, 2020, https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cchr/downloads/pdf/press-releases/Prada_Settlement_Press_Release.pdf [https://perma.cc/7JE4-7EAW].

  4. Vanessa Friedman, Miuccia Prada Will Be Getting Sensitivity Training, N.Y. Times (Feb. 4, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/04/style/Prada-racism-City-Commission-on-Human-Rights.html [https://perma.cc/TN5P-SKZZ].

  5. Adrianne Pasquarelli, Prada Will Stop Selling Monkey Keychains Decried As Racist, Ad Age (Dec. 14, 2018), https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/prada-stop-selling-blackface-keychains/315997 [https://perma.cc/W6S3-LVRR].

  6. PRADA (@Prada), Twitter (Dec. 14, 2018, 11:25 AM), https://twitter.com/prada/status/1073615042753519617?lang=en [https://perma.cc/8CWG-V37G].

  7. NYC Commission on Human Rights Settles with Prada over Merchandise Line Containing Racing Imagery in Landmark Case Mandating Comprehensive Programs to Combat Anti-Black Racism, NYC Comm’n on Human Rights (Feb. 5, 2020, https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cchr/downloads/pdf/press-releases/Prada_Settlement_Press_Release.pdf [https://perma.cc/7JE4-7EAW].

  8. Yu Hirakawa, NYC Commission on Human Rights Announces Settlement With Prada, WWD (Feb. 6, 2020), https://www.wwdjapan.com/articles/1024059 [https://perma.cc/X6D5-6CEE].

  9. Vanessa Friedman, Miuccia Prada Will Be Getting Sensitivity Training, N.Y. Times (Feb. 4, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/04/style/Prada-racism-City-Commission-on-Human-Rights.html [https://perma.cc/TN5P-SKZZ].

  10. Janelle Griffith, Dior Accused of Racism, Cultural Appropriation for New ‘Sauvage’ Cologne Ad, NBCNEWS (Aug. 30, 2019, 5:56 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/dior-accused-racism-cultural-appropriation-new-sauvage-cologne-ad-n1048401 [https://perma.cc/8JQZ-FZ3J].

  11. Katy Clifton, Gucci ‘Deeply Sorry’ for Black Balaclava Jumper That ‘Resembles Blackface,’ Evening Standard (Feb. 7, 2019, 10:39 AM), https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/gucci-in-racism-row-fashion-giant-deeply-sorry-for-black-balaclava-jumper-that-resembles-blackface-a4059951.html [https://perma.cc/53JG-9CHN].

Haruna Kitsuka

Haruna Kitsuka is a LL.M. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She holds a B.A. in Law from Sophia University in Japan.