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Culture Clash: Native-made vs. Native-inspired

There's a buzz in the air these days about cultural appropriation, especially given the recent fashion trend toward all things Navajo. I think we're seeing the strongest mainstream trend toward Native-inspired fashion since the ‘70s, when hippies embraced turquoise, headbands and (of course) Navajo patterns. Then, as now, it's hard to know exactly what non-Natives are getting out of these fashions. Do they desire authentic spiritual engagement—or do they just think feathers and leather look cool?

I hear from many people in our community who don’t believe that anyone should be inspired by Native American culture for the purposes of fashion, but I disagree. First, I don't think we ought to be militant about what is, after all, merely clothing. (If we're talking about misuse of sacred symbols and artifacts, that's different.) The beauty of our rich cultures cannot be expressed in just one way. Additionally, I think that the great interest in all things Native provides significant opportunities for our artists to appeal to a broader audience, which can ultimately lead to economic profitability and sustainability.

The fashion and shopping e-zine Daily Candy recently featured a couple of stories on hot fashion inspired by Native American culture that caught my eye.

DailyCandy: "Feather Hair Extensions: Designer Wendy Nichol Shows Us the Trend"

I just about doubled over laughing when I saw this clip on feather hair extensions. First of all, I do think they're cool and want one in brown stat. But secondly, who would have expected Parker Posey, circa Best in Show, to appear in this video. Seriously, watch the clip above, then watch the “We met at Starbucks” scene, and you'll be amazed at the frightening similarity between the parody and the fashion clip.

But back to the feathers. There's no doubt that Native women and feather-tied hair are a staple of public perception. This image was cemented in the cultural collective in the ‘70s when non-Native women first started wearing feathers as a fashion statement.

“I’ve always been inspired by Native American style, and the feathers and braids are just so beautiful,” designer Wendy Nichol tells Daily Candy.

“The feathers come from a US farm. They're from roosters. The roosters are allowed to live their full life because the longer they live, the longer the feathers will grow,” she explains. Well, it’s certainly good to know that animal health and safety are the priority. Oh and, you needn't worry because “the feathers are all washed in a soy based soap and colored with a soy based dye.”

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So if you're interested in truly honing your inner Pocahontas, perhaps you'll want to try on one of these feather arrangements for size. They do last 6 weeks, and even though I find Wendy Nichol a little bit funny, I do think they're quite beautiful and I would totally rock one in dark brown for a bit. Wear at your own risk.

DailyCandy: "Fortune Favors the Brave Jewelry Won't Make You Look like a Shaman: It's Nothing to Shake a Rain Stick At"

Left: Double Concho Chain @ Fortune Favors the Brave, $295. Right: Diamond Bangle @ Fortune Favors the Brave. $105.

Design duo Shannon Davenport and Julia Wilson teamed up to create an accessory line called Fortune Favors the Brave. It's inspired by the fusion of traditional Native American art with a rugged Americana and Western sensibility. The entire fashion landscape has been invigorated by a major southwestern theme recently.

While some of the designs lean toward “Western” culture with spots of turquoise, others are influenced by nuances of Navajo design. One necklace even sports a Kachina doll, which some might say is going too far. I think the designs are quite beautiful and I’d like to own many of the pieces. There simply aren't enough accessory designers, whether Native or otherwise, being empowered to showcase the art forms from our cultural past in a contemporary and stunning way.

Neither Wendy Nichol nor the FFTB ladies are Native. Should we be upset that they are getting their ideas from our culture? As I mentioned before, I prefer to think about it this way: If these designers are hot for the Indian look, then maybe some of my favorite Indian designers will get the recognition they deserve. If you're rocking the feather extension, you might pair it with those FFTB bangles.

A Modest Proposal

Both available at -- contact for pricing.

Might I suggest another choice: A necklace by Taos Pueblo designer Maria Samora. The pieces pictured above are from her Corndance and Summer Rain collections, and both are made of 18k gold and turquoise. This is one Pueblo jewelry designer with a progressive take on work inspired by her Native ancestry. As Maria Samora explains on her website, “I was born and raised in Taos and grew up around Native American Jewelry. I wanted to take the classic designs that inspired me to a new innovative level. It came naturally for me to create contemporary designs incorporating traditional elements.” Maria is an inspiring example of an artist who has achieved tremendous success by allowing her creative spirit to interact with her heritage. And she doesn't feel compelled to cater to “hippie” trends in order to sell her work.

Now, where did I put my vintage headband?