28/03/2013 10:59 GMT | Updated 27/05/2013 06:12 BST

'My Culture Is Not for Sale'

Fashion has throughout the years transgressed: it's not known for following the rules. It likes to be a little different, daring and controversial. But it's all in the name of 'fashion' so it works, right? Any institution that's been around since the adornment of loin cloths will have had its share of ignorant and racist moments. Be it through racist designers or the total of non-white models on the runway making up 20% which we should all apparently be elated and thankful for. However what may surprise you is that racist moments are becoming a little too trendy in recent times.

Of late, it is repeat offender Urban Outfitters who have taken to misusing, mislabeling and misguiding its fans and shoppers with what can not only be deemed as racist, but also culturally ignorant.

Just because it is fashion, doesn't mean it can't be in touch with the audience on a cultural and global level. How many times do we see labels promoting the fact they will donate any proceeds from their collection to the woman who have sewn their dresses? Or that for every pair of shoes bought, a child in Africa will be bought a pair for themselves? Intelligence and fashion are not mutually exclusive. Yet, once again, Urban Outfitters seem to have forgotten this.

Within their collection, Urban Outfitters launched a dress which was falsely labelled as a 'Vintage 90's Linen Dress'. On top of that, the price was extortionate also. Instead of giving the rightful owners and designers the full credit of the design, the label decided to make it as westernised as possible. A huge brush under the carpet moment with a touch of imperialist mentality sprinkled on top.

The dress, was in fact an Ethiopian and Eritrean traditional dress called a "hager lebs" or "zuriya"


Just a brief evaluation of the dress being sold by Urban Outfitters and one is able to see that this isn't even 'inspired' by the Ethiopian or Eritrean culture: it is straight plagiarism. The blatant disregard for an entire culture and the weight of importance held by these items of clothing by its women and people shows nothing more but a money hungry industry who are happy to trample all over the non-western guy to get a few more sales in their pockets.

Of course, a huge uproar has occurred because of this. Namely in the form of Lolla Mohammed Nur; an Ethiopian and Eritrean blogger and journalist who, without raising her voice, would never have caused the commotion she wishes to continue producing.

Lolla opted for the social media platform of Twitter to get her message out: hashtags (#MYcultureNOToutfit), blog entries and open letters and tweets to Urban Outfitters themselves, Lolla has made it her mission to educate, elevate and inform not only Urban Outfitters but all about her cultural heritage and its misuse.

With the world become such a globalised village, sharing ideas and cultures has never become easier because of the internet. But sharing and plagiarising are worlds apart. Urban Outfitters either didn't bother to do their research properly, or they genuinely do not care. As mentioned however, as repeat offenders (whereby they released a racist 'Navajo' line among others), it's sad to say no one should be surprised.

The labelling of a dress, that has existed within a culture for centuries, as 90's is ignorant and disrespectful. What deems Urban Outfitters to name a design whatever it wants in order to add it to their all American westernised collection? Would they do the same with a traditional Japanese Kimono? Time and again such designs have always been correctly labelled if not used in conjunction with terms such as 'inspired by'. So, what makes the Ethiopian and Eritrean culture exempt?

To date, Urban Outfitters are yet to respond to the chaos happening. Until now, the only sign of awareness we see is that the dress was removed from their online site. This is a step: whether in the right direction is questionable however.

An online petition has been started by Lolla, in a bid to reach out to not only Urban Outfitters, but the whole of the industry to let them know that the reappropriation of an entire culture for their own benefit is never welcome.

Find Lolla's petition here.