Ethnic is a term used to describe something that has some relation to an ethnic group or identity. Depending on the context, it’s also used to homogenize cultural and ethnic groups. It’s easily seen in fashion as designers, fashion writers and critics use the word to describe fabric, style, photographs or editorials that use clothing of non-Western origin.
It’s an extremely harmful term because of the context it is used under, which displays the power structure between Western and non-Western society. It also demonstrates the lack of power ethnic groups have over the way their cultural and ethnic clothes are used in Western society.
It’s reflected when people describe prints that are “African,” which is also a homogenizing term because there are hundreds of ethnic groups on the African continent.
The same goes for Kimonos, which are culturally tied to Japan. The word has been stripped out of context and used to describe jackets that are loose and have long sleeves. These jackets in no way resemble a Kimono and the word “Kimono” itself has been appropriated.
There is also the surge in popularity over Aztec designs, which people have argued isn’t cultural appropriation because the Aztecs are gone. This is incorrect, Aztecs are alive and well today, and to suggest they are gone is limiting to their cultural and ethnic identity.
The fashion world needs to recognize cultural appropriation for what it is and realize it has damaging effects on oppressed and marginalized people. Cultural appropriation perpetuates the oppression, stigmatization and stereotypes of already marginalized people and cultures.