The Problem With MAC’s New Vibe Tribe Collection

Photo: Courtesy of MAC.
Another day, another tone-deaf situation in the beauty world. Cultural appropriation — the idea of taking from another culture without properly crediting it — is an issue that keeps cropping up regularly. I've sadly come to expect these moments on my newsfeed nowadays, but just because it's the norm doesn't mean it's okay. In fact, it makes it all the more disappointing when it does happen, especially when it's coming from a brand many of us love and respect as a pioneer for social justice.
MAC recently announced its new makeup collection — titled Vibe Tribe — and people on the internet were quick to call out the brand for, as one Reddit user put it, "[Grossly] playing into the 'tribal' stereotype." The line's packaging includes what look like Navajo-inspired prints, and the name itself is clearly a nod to Native American culture. Even the advertisements feature women dressed in traditional garb, complete with colored feathers in their hair and tribal tattoos. But there's absolutely no reference to what one would assume is the inspiration behind the collection. There's no credit to the "tribes" it's referencing, no notes about paying homage, nada.
In fact, when we reached out to MAC for comment amid the controversy, the brand referenced music festivals as the inspiration (which, as we all know, have also become hotbeds of appropriation). "The collection, including the visuals, product lineup, and naming, is inspired by art, outdoor music festivals, and the colors of the desert," the brand stated. "The collection has absolutely no connection to nor was it inspired by the Native American cultures."
We've outlined the issue with throwing on Native American-inspired garb for fashion in the past. But as Reddit user beanieandpeach explained, it goes much deeper than that. "I'm really grossed out by the fact that they'll be benefiting from Native designs and 'vibes,' and I don't imagine any of the proceeds will be going to any of the First Nations, and I'd be surprised if there were any Native models in their ad campaigns," the user wrote. "My personal history is tribal, and it's not just a cute design for me, it's my fucking culture. And my culture is dying, my people are dying, and it's because of a history of mass genocide and forced sterilization and plagues and poverty and broken treaties — and it actually hurts to imagine that someday, the word 'tribe' might live on on the faceplate of some MAC cosmetic, long after the last native speaker of the Nimiípuu is gone." The problem gets worse when you consider that some Instagram users are already beginning to post pictures of themselves with "tribal" makeup using products from the line. (Again, without giving any credit to the inspiration behind their looks.)
Free People also received some harsh criticism for its new festival collection — which includes feathered headdresses, medicine bags, and rain sticks — earlier this month. The Navajo Nation even sued Urban Outfitters back in 2012 for trademark infringement. As one Twitter user pointed out, this isn't MAC's first brush with cultural appropriation — and the brand is certainly not alone in the beauty and fashion space to be guilty of it. But as we continue to educate ourselves, here's hoping we can change the dialogue and learn to pay credit where credit is due — both in the way we live and in the products and fashions we use to express ourselves.

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