Free People’s Festival Shop Gets Called Out For Cultural Appropriation

Photo: Courtesy of Free People.
Free People is getting some harsh criticism for its new festival collection. The brand’s Coachella-ready garb, which includes feathered headdresses and hair clips, medicine bags and rain sticks, is featured almost exclusively on white, blonde models in the collection’s campaign imagery. The reactions on social media were less than thrilled — with both the items themselves (particularly the headdresses) as well as the casting.

In addition to feathered garb, there are seed-beaded pieces and prints that are being highlighted as inappropriately co-opting Native-American culture.

“Your festival shop is a disgusting example of cultural appropriation. I’m offended!!” tweeted one user, with a screenshot of a metal headdress on a blonde model. Another Twitter user got a bit more specific, calling out the lack of diversity in Free People’s latest mailing: “Just got new @FreePeople catalog. Not a single POC [person of color] in the whole thing. Plenty of #indigenous culture though.”

The retailer’s Festival Shop page on its site is currently primarily populated with brunette models; while their ethnicities are unclear, you don’t immediately see the fair, blonde-haired, blue-eyed models that elicited such ire on social media. We can't be sure if the imagery was changed on the site after the social media maelstrom, and of course, that there's some diversity on the brand's online representation of the collection is besides the point. It's that this collection exists at all. The collection’s steep prices, especially considering how situationally specific the pieces are, has also drawn criticism.
Accusations of cultural appropriation in the fashion sphere are tricky terrain, and there have been a slew of situations involving Native American culture and attire in particular. Urban Outfitters Inc., which owns Free People, has been involved in a legal battle with the Navajo Nation in New Mexico since 2012, in which the company is accused of trademark infringement and of violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, Buzzfeed reported.

We’ve reached out to Free People for comment, and will update when we hear back.

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