How to Shop for Native Fashion Without Being Culturally Appropriative

Start by going to the Native Art Market in Tribeca this weekend.
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Whitney Bauck
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Start by going to the Native Art Market in Tribeca this weekend.
kristen dorsey designs

Photo: Chiara Salomoni/Kristen Dorsey

Urban Outfitters settled a five-year legal battle with the Navajo Nation last week that arose after the American brand released a line of products that appropriated the Navajo name and aesthetic without their permission (and without compensating them). While both parties seem satisfied with the new settlement, the lesson the suit sends is loud and clear: appropriating Native fashion isn’t to be taken lightly.

So what if you love the jewelry or clothing made and worn by indigenous peoples, but that’s not your heritage?

Luckily for you, many Native artists don’t actually mind non-Natives wearing their designs or borrowing from their aesthetic. They just want to be fairly compensated and recognized for their cultural contribution. In short, wearing Native patterns or jewelry is fine as long as you bought them from an actual Native designer. And if there’s something that you really shouldn’t be wearing — i.e. a headdress with special religious or tribal significance — the artist you’re buying from will likely let you know.

Art fairs, like the Native Art Market at the National Museum of the American Indian this weekend, are a perfect place to find genuine Native designs and meet the artists behind them. Taking place on December 3 and 4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the market features 35 artists selling everything from Alaskan furs to wampum jewelry.

With tension over the Dakota Access Pipeline protests continuing to mount, there’s never been a better time to show your support for Native designers. So if you’re in New York, head to Tribeca today and check out the Native Art Market—and if you can’t make it in person to see the full selection, browse some of our favorite vendors online here.

Aaron Brokeshoulder (Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma) - Sterling Silver Jewelry
Do You Have A. Brokeshoulder

Denise Wallace (Chugach Alutiiq) - Alaskan narrative jewelry
Denise Wallace

Dorothy Grant (Haida) - Designer apparel and leather bags
Dorothy Grant

Jimmie Harrison (Diné) - Inlay Jewelry
Sedona Indian Jewelry

Kristen Dorsey (Chickasaw Nation) - Gold and silver jewelry
Kristen Dorsey Designs

Lyle Secatero (Diné) - Traditional sterling silver jewelry
Lyle Secatero

Matagi Sorensen (Yavapai Apache Nation) - Sculptural silver jewelry
Matagi Fine Art

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