February 18, 2015

KTZ's Latest Collection: A Racist Ripoff

Image by artist, Santiago
London-based fashion brand KTZ Official launched their latest collection yesterday during New York Fashion Week. In its collection, KTZ appropriates Native American design, offends with its misuse of Navajo sacred iconography, and rips off a well-known Native American fashion designer.



And representatives from the brand maintain that the collection is a ‘tribute’ to Native Americans.

Thanks, but no thanks.

KTZ is a new brand, launched only in 2003, and is under the creative direction of European designer Marjan Pejoski. According to KTZ’s biography, “KTZ designs men’s and women’s ready-to-wear clothing with couture detailing known for its raw energy and contemporary urban edge, but also for embracing ethnographic references and multiculturalism.”

Red flag #1.

Let’s take a gander.

Here’s the deal, because of this little thing called colonialism, anytime that a non-Native designer blatantly rips off Native American aesthetic designs for profit, we have this other little thing called appropriation. Appropriation, simply put, is the unauthorized use of another culture’s stuff. It is a problem when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in the past and continues to be exploited. Racism comes into play when we're talking about power - who gets the right to represent whom? In this case, KTZ continues colonial and racist exploitive acts.

If you still don’t understand what the big issue is, please read Jezebel’s A Much Needed Primer on Culture Appropriation, especially when I say this little ditty:
"There isn't just one Native American culture. There are hundreds. And there are millions of Native people. And we're being ignored. We're being told that we don't have rights over how we are represented in mainstream America. We are being told that we should 'get over it' - but the people who are saying this don't even know what the issues are. When people know of us only as a 'costume,' or something you dress up as for Halloween or for a music video, then you stop thinking of us as people, and this is incredibly dangerous because everyday we fight for the basic human right to live our own lives without outsiders determining our fate or defining our identities."

Pejoski blatantly disregards this basic fact, and creates a mish-mash – combining Navajo weaving designs with Crow beadwork patterns, and Plains bone breastplates with Southwest turquoise jewelry.

And let’s talk about those Navajo designs: one of them is of a sacred ye’ii – the embodiment of Navajo deities – that Pejoski put on a leather corset dress. Red flag #2. There is a colonial history of stealing, selling and buying Native American sacred items.

Maya Singer, author for Style.com, states, "Pejoski was glossing the traditional aesthetics of Native American tribes—a mishmash of them, really. It's not his intention to be accurate… It's the clubby touch that defangs Pejoski's appropriations and renders them inoffensive. A nightclub is a big playroom, after all, and clubgoers are big kids playing kinky dress-up.” Singer desperately tries to cover for Pejoski. I’m not buying the excuse that creating a dress for a nightclub makes appropriation of the sacred ok.

I could go on and on about the fake turquoise (and how it harms Native American artists’ sales), and about the breastplates made of ‘human bones’ (really), and about the overall tacky presentation of this collection, but I will end with one final point: in his biography, the designer explains, “[My] concepts are truly innovative, merging old with new, past with future, and hard rock with romance.”

Innovative? Red flag #3.

Try this: his "concepts are truly rip offs, merging fur with Bethany Yellowtail’s designs."

Rip-off = Stealing ideas and/or products to create something of lesser value.

(Left:) An original Bethany Yellowtail "Apsaalooke Nights" dress launched in fall of 2014. The dress embodies an original family-held Yellowtail Crow design.

(right) A KTZ Official dress from New York Fashion Week

To quote Bethany Yellowtail: “It's one thing for designers to be unoriginal and knock-off other people's designs but what happens when you blatantly steal culturally valuable designs from Indigenous people? In an interview, the KTZ designer also goes on to say that this collection is a "tribute" to Indigenous Native American people, and he did a lot of 'research'. But what kind of honor does this bring?”

Indigenous designs are not in the 'free bin'. This is not our legacy. Inspiration is a great thing - but it requires some creativity of your own. You are inspired by Native American art? Work with Native American artists, support Native American designers by buying their work, not ripping them off. That is NO tribute.

Support Bethany, a hardworking Native American designer, and contact KTZ Official and ask that the dress be removed from the collection - INFO@K-T-Z.CO.UK

In addition, if KTZ were truly honoring Native people, they should listen to what we are saying, and they should also remove the dress with the sacred Ye'ii imagery from their collection.

For another review of this collection, from an awesome Native perspective, check out Native Appropriations.


Red Flag #4: The KTZ designer claimed in an article to have done a lot of ‘research’ for this collection. Research and ripping off:

Thank you Charlene Holy Bear, Lakota artist, for the comparison.