Episode 1. Cultural Appropriation in Sewing: An Introduction

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Cultural Appropriation in Sewing: An Introduction The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

Links

Elmira top by Seamwork

Lamour Dress by Charm Patterns

Florence Trousers by Size Me Sewing

Winslow Culottes by Helen’s Closet Patterns

Nettle Studios

Jess, @fat.bobbin.girl and author of Broad in the Seams & half of Muna and Broad

What is cultural appropriation?, written by Arlin Cuncic and posted on Verywell Mind. Includes a list of great examples of cultural appropriation.

Jacinda Arden’s Nova Coat 

By Hand London’s announcement on replacing the term “Kimono sleeve”, posted on their Instagram and Facebook accounts.

Dressing Robe Pattern Update, written by Helen Wilkinson and posted on Helen’s Closet Patterns.

Kimono Jacket Name Change, written by Jenny Gordy and posted on the Wiksten shop’s journal.

Cultural Appropriation and the Discontinuation of the Haori Pattern, written by Jenny Gordy and posted on the Wiksten shop’s journal.

An Open Letter to White Makers & Designers Who Are Inspired By the Kimono and Japanese Culture, written by Emi Ito and posted on Ysolda.

Simplicity Pattern 8654 Misses’ Vintage Skirt, Shorts and Tie Top, sold on Simplicity.

Bailey, Marlon M. (April 21, 2014). “Engendering space: Ballroom culture and the spatial practice of possibility in Detroit”. Gender, Place & Culture. 21 (4): 489–507

Wilson, James F. Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies : Performance, Race, and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance. University of Michigan Press, 2010.

Livingston, Jennie (Director). 1990. Paris is Burning [film]. Academy Entertainment and Off White Productions. 

Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation, by Shreena Gandhi and Lillie Wolff, posted on Praxis Center.

The Stono Rebellion, posted on PBS Online.

What is Orientalism, and how is it also racism?, posted on Reappropriate.

How to Stop Fetishizing My Chinese Identity, written by Rae Chen and posted on Teen Vogue.

Exoticism, posted on Wikipedia.

The meanings of qipao as traditional dress: Chinese and Taiwanese perspectives, written by Chui Chu Yang.

Recommended Reading

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Additional Information

Cultural Appropriation

Definition: The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. typically of a non-dominant people or society, by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.

Why cultural appropriation is harmful, and characteristics of cultural appropriation:

If we want to understand why cultural appropriation is harmful, we first have to understand that white supremacy is at the root of ALL cultural appropriation.

  1. Erasure and dehumanization of oppressed peoples: The white dominant culture in the U.S. developed from erasing the cultures and identities of those they colonized, enslaved, and oppressed, as well as white immigrants from European nations, who were made to “[replace] their ethnicities with whiteness and the privilege that came along with that identity.” Enslaved and colonized people, however, were often forcibly stripped of their cultural customs, practices and ideas and made to assimilate into the white dominant culture (e.g. the loss of language, the loss of cultural practices, etc. that Indiginous American people, African enslaved people and immigrants have experienced in America) in order to survive. Unlike white, European immigrants, these peoples were forced to replace their ethnicities without benefiting from whiteness, because of their phenotypic differences. Therefore, it is with such audacity (“caucasity”!) that white people then take aspects of the cultures of those they suppressed that they find entertaining or cool, and use it as they please. Erasure and oppression continue to be perpetuated through cultural appropriation, which:
  1. Does not acknowledge or respect the original meaning or purpose of the custom/practice/idea
  1. Does not give credit to the origin of the custom/practice/idea, nor does it contextualize how the custom/practice/idea came to be (sometimes, particularly with Black African-American culture, customs/practices/ideas were developed in direct opposition to the oppression they experienced by whiteness. For example, after enslaved African people organized a rebellion against slave owners in 1739, white colonists created the Negro Act of 1740, which prohibited Black enslaved people from doing many things, including playing the drums, as slave owners believed this form of communication would lead to another rebellion. In its place, enslaved people adapted forms of traditional dance to incorporate rhythmic beats and shuffles of the foot, which would then evolve to become what we know today as tap dance. Though tap dancing is deeply rooted in the Black African-American history of persevering and trying to hold on to their cultural practices in the face of the violence of slavery, this history was and is not acknowledged when white dancers and choreographers practice this form of dance.)
  1. Reinforces stereotypes which further erases the humanity of the culture/peoples in question.
  1. Orientalism, fetishization, and exoticism are products of white supremacy that continue to create harm by objectifying and therefore dehumanizing (Asian) people. This is why calling a sleeve a “kimono” sleeve has violent roots.

Assimilation

Assimilation for survival is something that has existed among all enslaved, colonized and immigrant people since the beginning of the founding of the U.S. (i.e. this isn’t new). If we’re talking about people of the Asian diaspora, this has been happening since the 1800s. This is rooted in our U.S./Western history, and that none of this is a new phenomenon. 

Following the statement that AAPI people are not a monolith, we all also have different experiences with immigration – those who entered into the U.S. in early 1800s are different from refugees, who are different than those who were “select professionals” from Asia who were granted visas post the 1965 immigration ban. And yet, all of us – enslaved, colonized, immigrant people and their offspring – have experienced the pressure/need to assimilate.

The degrees of pressure to assimilate vary with the various experiences above, as do our ability to maintain language and culture (those who had language and culture forcibly removed are less connected sometimes to those things, e.g. descendants of enslaved African people no longer know what their maternal tongue was, Native Americans, and even many Mexican Americans and Japanese Americans we personally know lost their native tongues because of persecution for using these languages, etc.).

Show Transcript

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world, brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community.

In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is a traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho people. My pronouns are she and her, and I am proud to be a second generation Taiwanese American born and raised in New Jersey.

I first learned how to hand sew as a child. And I sewed the elastics on my ballet slippers and pointe shoes, and my Girl Scout badges onto my vest. I’ve always been passionate about fashion and clothing and immersed myself in the garment sewing world when I discovered it. I am now somewhere between an advanced beginner and an intermediate sewist, and I find machine sewing much faster.

My personal sewing Instagram account is @i.hope.sew. Professionally, I come from a tech marketing background, but long story short nowadays, you’ll find me running my own natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare. That’s C-H-U-A-N, and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method.

Nicole: And I’m your co-host Nicole. I’m based outside of Chicago in the U.S., the original homelands of the Council of the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I identify as a Filipinx woman and go by she/her pronouns. I was born outside of the city of Chicago to parents who immigrated from the Philippines.

I only just picked up sewing in March, 2020. My mom had a sewing machine growing up and, she would primarily use it to make scrubs for herself. At some point she taught me how to thread it and I’ve made a skirt, but I hadn’t revisited it since. So I’ve been itching to getting a sewing machine just to try my hand at making some simple projects.

Then of course the pandemic hit and it was masks all day, every day until I finally started to branch out into garment sewing. And I don’t think I will ever look back. My sewing Instagram account is @NicoleAngelineSews. For my day job. I’m an immigration attorney at a nonprofit in Chicago, and I’m also back in law school part-time, working toward an LLM in international human rights and criminal justice.

Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole: I’m currently working on an outfit that I’m making for the Fabric Mart blog. It’ll be a three-piece outfit whose colors are taken from the Filipino flag: red, blue, and yellow. Since it’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (APAHM) here in the U.S., I thought I would make my scheduled blog posts, themed, you know, to share a little bit about my culture.

So I’m working with one, the Seamwork Elmira wrap top, to just the bodice of the Lamour dress from Charmed Patterns and the Size Me Sewing Florence Pants. I went a little overboard with my first post and I told myself, I’ll take it easy this time around, but I have not ever made pants before. So it’ll probably get interesting.

I’m in the toile stage for the Florence pant, and hopefully I’ll get a cute pair of shorts out of it, but we’ll see. How about you, Ada? What are you working on?

Ada: I am working on pants. Coincidentally, I thrifted a piece of hot pink linen. And I’m making some Helen’s Closet Winslow Culottes, but heavily hacked to have the elasticated waistband all the way around. So if you want to talk pants, we should talk pants. I am currently at the questioning my cutting skills stage of this project.

I have the pattern piece because I’ve made it before, but, I am really questioning if I should be, you know, making some adjustments before I actually cut it out. 

And I was inspired by two people, or two Instagram accounts, I should say. One is Nettle Studios, which is one of my favorite slow fashion brands in San Francisco. And the other is Jess, @fat.bobbin.girl from Muna and Broad. Her profile picture is her in these hot pink linen, I think pants, and they are fantastic.

So I was really inspired by both of those people. And, I’m hoping to make some elastic waist Helen’s Closet Winslow Culottes soon.

It’s no secret that over the last year, anti-Asian racism has increased around the world. The US-based group Stop AAPI Hate reported that they received almost 3,800 hate incident reports from individuals in all 50 states and the District of Columbia from February, 2020 through March, 2021. And in recent weeks, we’ve witnessed countless anti-Asian acts of violence and tragedy, especially against elders in cities, across the country.

Many of us felt a need to do something after the killings in Atlanta, in March that took the lives of eight people, six of whom were Asian women, and we are angry and frustrated and sad. And personally, as someone who’s been an organizer in the AAPI community, I was disappointed that it took the senseless murder of these people to bring attention to our community and how we experienced systemic racism.

We’ve been through a lot in the last year, uh, personally going through the pandemic, some major life and career changes, caregiving for, and then losing my dad to COVID-19. I found a lot of comfort in the online selling community, but coming out of this experience, you know, I realized I hadn’t felt like I’d ever really belonged in the community.

And then I, and many other Asian sewists wanted to be seen and heard, and we wanted to help others learn more about our identities and our communities, and even do some introspection ourselves.

Nicole: We also wanted to connect with other members of the Asian community to process our grief and uplift each other’s voices together, which is why we formed the Asian Sewist Collective. Today in our very first episode, we’re diving right in and talking about a topic that has come up a lot in the sewing community, especially in the last few weeks.

And that is cultural appropriation.

Ada: So cultural appropriation is a big topic to unpack. And even though we are both women of color, we are by no means experts and everything we’re going to talk about today has been pulled together from our research. None of it is new, unfortunately, it’s information that’s been out there and we just want to encourage you to take a look at the research and listen to our own experiences in this episode and use it as a starting point for you to take away and do your own continued learning outside of this podcast.

Nicole: Our main focus for today will be to explore what cultural appropriation is. Examples of cultural appropriation that we see in our daily lives. And then how that trickles down into the sewing community. In a future episode, we will focus on applying your knowledge in cultural appropriation. We’ll walk you through ways you can determine if you’re contributing to cultural appropriation, and we’ll also discuss various ways that you can address cultural appropriation when you see it. Now, if you hear anything in this episode that makes you uncomfortable, we encourage you to really sit with that and unpack those emotions.

Try to understand its root cause. Hit pause, take a step back. We will be here. Maybe try to articulate your feelings just by writing something down processing. However you can. And come back when you’re ready to press play, we’ll be here.

Ada: So at the beginning of this episode, I said that this podcast is for Asian sewists and our allies. So who are we talking about? When we say Asian, the simple definition really is anyone of Asian descent, but we should unpack that. Asia is one of the, it’s the largest continent on Earth actually. And it spans dozens of countries and countless cultures. So usually when we think of the term Asian, we picture East Asian people, you know, someone that looks like me who might be Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, or is Korean or Japanese, but there are so many other nations and nationalities and cultures in Asia.

There are Southeast Asians, so Filipinos, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporeans, and Cambodians, South Asians, Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan. And then there are Asian ethnicities that span country borders such as Hmong and Tibetan. And the U.S. census actually distinguishes these ethnicities as part of the whole Asian umbrella.

Nicole: So speaking of Asian ethnicities, spanning country borders, there are countries like Russia that are geographically located in a way that has enabled them to expand into neighboring regions like central Asia and Siberia, making Russia, technically a part of Asia. Now, although Russia is predominantly white, when you really look at all the people that make up Russia, you’ll see descendants of those who were conquered and who might share cultural and physical traits that are not white.

A couple of examples in this group are Mongolian people and the Kazak people.

Ada: I also want to emphasize that the labels that Asian people use to identify themselves can differ from country to country. In the U.S. we often use the term AAPI, Asian American and Pacific Islander to group together all East, Southeast, South Asian and Pacific Islander peoples. But in the UK, we’ve seen the term ESEA, East and Southeast Asian used instead.

So if you learn one thing today, I hope it’s this, that calling someone or something Asian can be super vague because the definition is so broad. We want to make it very clear that Asians are not a monolith.

Nicole: So true. So let’s just jump right into cultural appropriation. It’s been a topic in the mainstream news and discussions about systemic racism. And it’s been a topic in the sewing community through ill named patterns and fabrics. An example of cultural appropriation and action that you’ve probably all heard of is non-indigenous or Native American people wearing so-called native headdresses at music festivals during Halloween, or even during the 2012 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

So what does cultural appropriation actually mean? When a person from one culture adopts the fashion, iconography or traditions from another culture, that one: doesn’t give respect to their original meaning. And two: doesn’t give credit to their original source. And typically cultural appropriation happens when a dominant group is adopting the customs of a non-dominant group.

Now, this is from the Oxford English dictionary definition of cultural appropriation.

Ada: Oh my gosh, all of those examples. So cringe-worthy, I want to try to tie this back to ill-named sewing patterns. But what I keep seeing right now is that when marginalized groups point out instances of cultural appropriation, when it happens, the reaction we get back a lot of the time as well, “it’s just a sleeve” or, you know, “it’s just a pattern name”.

Why does it matter?

I think we actually need to dive a little bit deeper into the background of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation actually stems from white supremacy. And I know that phrase makes a lot of people uncomfortable, myself included, but it’s true. If we go back in time, the white dominant culture in the U.S. and other Western cultures were developed by erasing the cultures and identities of those that they colonized enslaved and oppressed white immigrants from European nations were made to replace their ethnicities with whiteness and the privilege that came along with that identity.

Meanwhile, enslaved and colonized people were often forcibly stripped of their cultural customs practices and the ideas that they took from their cultures and made to assimilate into the white dominant culture in order just to survive.

Nicole: This phenomenon has continued throughout time. Since the 1800s, Asian immigrants, new to the U.S. or other Western countries, have prioritized assimilation into white dominated societies and chosen not to pass on certain customs practices or even languages to their offspring, Asian people who moved here in the 1800s had a very different immigration spirit experience from those considered select professionals who are granted visas post the 1965 immigration ban.

But all of us have experienced the pressure and, or need to assimilate. Unlike white European immigrants, people of color were and are still forced to replace their ethnicities without benefiting from whiteness because of their different physical characteristics. And white supremacy is upheld when all of these suppressed and marginalized groups are pitted against each other, because if we’re all fighting against each other, we can’t fight against our common oppressor.

Ada: So when a dominant culture takes aspects of the cultures that they’ve suppressed and doesn’t acknowledge it, or they’re inappropriately using elements of other cultures, just because they think it’s cool…the power dynamic that is rooted in white supremacy is at play there. This is basically what we mean when we refer to or talk about cultural appropriation.

And it doesn’t mean that you can’t be inspired by another culture or want to reference it in your sewing practice, but it is cultural appropriation when: you don’t respect the original meaning or purpose of a custom practice or idea, when you don’t give credit to the source, when you’re reinforcing a stereotype or when you’re contributing to oppression, which is what happens when the person borrowing the culture is from a dominant or oppressive group.

Nicole: So what about examples of cultural appropriation in the sewing community? Before we dive into the examples, we want to acknowledge how all marginalized communities have experienced this, not just Asian people we’re specifically going at, but we’re going to specifically highlight some of the examples from Asian culture being appropriated.

Okay. There’s a big one that I think a lot of Asian sewists noticed, but didn’t see any movement on. And that was the Papercut Patterns collection that was named after Japanese cities. Now, this was problematic because they had no ties to places they named after their patterns. They just thought it was cool to name their collection after Japan. In particular, I am thinking of a specific coat, that I am aware of.

Ada: I know that coat.

Nicole: Oh, me too. Paperercut Patterns, after being called out by the sewing community and Asian sewists in particular, decided to rename this collection and ask customers to update their hashtags. Although we want to note that we haven’t seen any other affirmative actions on their end since.

Ada: And Nicole, you actually, you made that coat, right?

Nicole: I did. I sure did. I don’t know about you Ada, but, I’m an absolute sucker for trendy patterns. You can probably think of a few patterns that everyone knows about. And there are literally thousands of makes on Instagram and Instagram is my entire sort of sewing community. Like this is where I grew up and I’ve been growing as a sewist. Now a few that come to mind are the Wilder Gown. I see one in the background of yours. It’s trending, trends are fine. There’s nothing, you know, we’ll get to that. But, the Sicily slip dress and…

Ada: Oh, I have that too.

Nicole: You do? Oh man. So I do want to make that one. I do, and also, so another one is what seems to be the latest obsession is the M7969 dress, which I’ve also seen.

I’ve seen it as a top. It’s everywhere. It’s ubiquitous. And I’ve not made any of them yet because I get influenced by influencers on Instagram. I’m feeling the siren call there. Now the coat formerly known as the Sapporo coat was one of those patterns and I thought would be a great first coat project for me.

No finicky, tailoring, you know, all that. So I asked for the pattern for Christmas and Santa delivered along with some super cute pink fabric from one of my favorite fabric shops. But as I sat on the pattern, you know, I started to feel weird about the name. I remember going to the Papercut website, discovering the entire Sakura line, and then looking to see if the designer was Japanese or had some kind of Japanese connection, and I didn’t see any such evidence, I didn’t really know what to make of that, or what to do with that information or lack thereof.

But the truth is I didn’t go out of my way to try to demand evidence. I didn’t ask or look more deeply into it. So I just went about making the coat. Although I did find myself just feeling a little bit weird about it. Um, I didn’t post as many progress stories as I normally would. I wasn’t tagging my posts to show the designer I was making their coat.

I also wasn’t sure whether I’d share it when I was finished. So in this instance, I was willfully blind to the harm that the name of the pattern was causing to people. I don’t have any excuses for it and I’m not making any. Now I, myself am continuing to learn and working toward doing better. I’m sure some listeners, many listeners are probably cringing at my ignorance, while I’m sharing the story.

But I’m sharing because even though these are uncomfortable things to talk about, they still need to be discussed. So what about you, Ada? I know someone called you out in the comments for asking if they’re going to update their PDF pattern, even for people who purchased them in the past.

Ada: I mean, you know, I really like that pattern. Jacinda Arden even has one of those coats. I think one of her family members sewed it for her, but I always, always hated the name. And then I found out that a whole collection was named after places in Japan and it really just, it turned me off of their brand and their designs.

You know, I don’t actually own any of their patterns. When I commented on their Instagram posts, I was commenting on behalf of anybody who had purchased their patterns. You know, it didn’t seem like they had offered that information upfront. So yeah. If I had that question, I assume someone else had that question too.

And I’ve had private conversations with other sewists who felt similarly, and it turns out that they were previously called out in 2019 for another pattern that they called a kimono, which then they renamed as a jacket, but still had the name of a Japanese city on it. And to me, it really matters that if I’m giving my money to a company, I want to know what that company or brand stands for it.

And I want to know that they are actually inclusive and know their audience perpetuating cultural appropriation does not create an inclusive sewing community. Um, and we’re not trying to bash one particular company here. Um, we just wanted to point out an example of how we felt about a particular pattern or, or a set of patterns.

And for similar reasons, I don’t buy patterns from companies that don’t offer an inclusive size range because you know, size inclusivity is a whole topic that we need to do it a whole other episode or series of episodes on. But yeah, I make sure that when I’m buying something from a company, I want to support that company and the makers behind it.

Nicole: And I’ll say that since I’ve only been sewing for about a year, my, the way that I approach where my sewing dollars are spent is evolving. And I hope in a good way. So holding these companies, you know, if not publicly accountable, at least being mindful of where my dollars go is something that I am developing and evolving towards.

So I can’t wait for us to do a deep dive in size inclusivity in the future on this podcast. Have you noticed how sewing terms can also be culturally appropriating? Like kimono sleeves?

Ada: Oh, yeah. I mean, a few weeks ago when it was early morning here, and I think that’s the end of the day in the UK, I woke up and I opened Instagram on my phone, bad habit. I know. And the first thing I saw in my feed was a post by a By Hand London, where they were explaining that they were going to start using the term, grown on sleeve through their patterns, instead of kimono sleeve.

And I want to jump back briefly. We discussed that cultural appropriation stems from white supremacy. There are other products of white supremacy that harm objectify and dehumanize people when it comes to Asian women. Orientalism, fetishization and exoticism are all products of white supremacy that create harm by objectifying and dehumanizing us.

We saw that in the Atlanta killings and personally, I’ve just lived this my entire life. I’ve been called a China doll. People have called or screamed “Konichiwa” or “Annyeong Haseyo” (I know I’m doing it with a terrible accent). And when that gets screamed to me in the street, it’s jarring and it’s terrifying and it shouldn’t be happening, but it still does.

And I’m sure that many of our listeners tuning in have had similar experiences. And that makes me sad and that makes me angry. And so when we talk about a term like kimono sleeve, we have to acknowledge that all of these concepts are related. And that that term actually has violent roots. By Hand London actually chose to update all of their patterns, which is massive, and it takes a ton of work.

Nicole: Thanks for sharing your experience. Ada, as you were talking about some of the things that just happened to you in this 10, 15, second excerpt, I could feel my heart racing a little bit thinking about all the things that I have been subject to, simply for existing in this world as an Asian woman. When you hear an Asian woman or a person of any marginalized identity, tell you their story, be gentle with them and thank them because it’s not an easy thing to do. 

So back to cultural appropriation. Here’s another example for you: Helen from Helen’s Closet, a friend of the Asian Sewist Collective also had a pattern that she ended up pulling due to cultural appropriation.

Her pattern started out as the Suki Kimono, we’ll definitely get into a detailed discussion about kimonos in a future episode. But suffice to say is not a kimono. She had then renamed her pattern, the Suki Robe, removing the word kimono. Then recognizing that Suki is actually Japanese, she renamed it yet again to the dressing robe.

In the end, she decided to pull the pattern completely from her line. And that was, that must’ve been, I’m sure it was an incredibly hard business decision to pull one of your most popular patterns that’s been around for a long time.

Ada: Yeah, I mean, as a business owner, I totally empathize with what all of these design companies are going through deciding to update their products or even pull them. And it’s hard, but I think being on the right side of cultural appropriation is probably the better move long-term. On a similar note, there was another garment that was originally named after a Japanese garment, right? The newly renamed unfolding jacket.

Nicole: Yes. Formerly known as the Wiksten Haori and even before that it was called the Wiksten Kimono Jacket. Jenny Gordy, the designer behind the Wiksten has two blog posts up about it. And after the first name change, she acknowledged that she was educated by Emi Ito (@little_kotos_closet on Instagram) and two local Portland friends, Haruna Wilson and Miyako Cancro, before she changed it. 

Emi has been speaking out about cultural appropriation for many years, and I highly recommend going to her website and to her Instagram to learn more. Again, that’s @little_kotos_closet on Instagram.

She wrote a really good post called “An open letter to white makers and designers who are inspired by the kimono and Japanese culture”. And in this post, she explains, “When I discuss cultural appropriation, I typically start with the three P’s: power, profit, and people. Power first because there is almost always a power dynamic of a more dominant culture taking from another culture that has been historically oppressed and marginalized. Profit because someone is typically profiting in our capitalist society and often it is not the origin cultures and communities. And people because the people of the origin cultures almost always get erased.”

There’s a running theme here, which is that the sewing community appropriates a lot from Japanese culture and Ada, neither of us are Japanese. Are there other examples of appropriation of Asian cultures?

Ada: Oh, for sure. So many it’s really, it’s not good, but we’re working on it, right? It’s not just indie pattern designers either. It happens with the big four. I remember a few weeks ago scrolling through the Simplicity site to look at patterns, to write the numbers down for the next Joann’s sale. You know, I’m a millennial and I like scrolling online before I go to the store to minimize the time I’m spending there.

And while I was scrolling, I found a Simplicity pattern, the S8654, which is a vintage two piece set. It’s pretty cute. It’s a tie top with sleeves paired with shorts, kind of like resort wear or vacation wear that you would make an acute print take on vacation with you. And on an updated version of this vintage pattern, a white model is featured holding a pink paper parasol umbrella. You probably know the type I’m talking about, and we don’t have time to talk about the whole history of paper parasol umbrellas, but just so everyone knows they’re a cultural icon or object. And personally, a little over a decade ago, I had the privilege of spending an entire summer in Taiwan, courtesy of the Taiwanese government, to teach English to elementary school kids in a village in the Southern part of the island.

It was a fantastic way to learn more about my culture and the village where I spent time. It’s called Meinong, M-E-I-N-O-N-G. And they’re actually really famous for their paper parasol umbrellas. And so when I was there, I went through the whole little museum and learned a bunch about the craft that goes into these umbrellas. And I actually received one as a gift before I came home. So they are so much more than a prop that you just see in a home decor store or in a photo shoot. And that’s why it looks ridiculous. 

To be honest on the cover of that simplicity pattern, it literally looks like someone pulled it out of a prop closet and handed it to the model without a second thought. It doesn’t even go with her outfit. I was joking about that pattern when I posted it on my Instagram stories and I was joking about it with some of the folks who responded, some of whom are part of the Asian Sewist Collective. And I think Jane @janestudio__  on Instagram, she lives in New York or around New York. And I grew up very close to there, was always in the city and went to school there. And you know, there’s like tourist traps that sell these kinds of things. And we were joking like, you know, the big four pattern companies. I think they do their photoshoots there. Maybe a random photography director just went to go pick up a prop and they were in a tourist trap near Chinatown and they had no idea.

There are literally tons of examples and we could go on for hours about this.

Nicole: I do want to say that I have that pattern and,

Ada: Okay.

Nicole: And I purchased it during a Joann’s sale. I think I was looking for a, I was looking for a pattern to sew up for a vintage challenge because I, again, I was nervous. I’m like, I don’t even know where to start with vintage patterns. So I’ll look at, you know, reproductions and I have that pattern.

So I have the pattern and all I thought was like, it’s cute. Yay. So when Ada, you told me the story, I think we were messaging each other and I was just like, “Oh man, come on.” And I don’t know, I should look at what the pattern itself looks like, but I think you told me it was also on their website, this white woman modeling with a parasol and I don’t know, I guess it just illustrates, you know, number one, how pervasive white supremacy is in all of our thinkings, including me, an Asian woman, who generally considers myself, you know, aware of these issues, but clearly here’s example number two just in this podcast alone, and, you know, the second thing is, again, just emphasizing that you have to know how you have to know you need to do better to do better.

So, I’ll make it, but, you know, like Ada said, I’m not gonna walk around with a parasol and, you know, pretend I’m something I’m not, I may or may not make it still. But anyway, there’s so many, so many examples. which I think we’re kind of illustrating in this podcast. And I was between Ada and myself.

Our show notes do have links that share tons of non-sewing examples as well. So here’s just a little taste of some examples that you may be familiar with, or perhaps you’re learning about for the first time, maybe a very obvious one: White teenagers wearing traditional Chinese dresses to prom, known as qipao or cheongsam.

Ada: No, don’t do it. If you are that person don’t do it or you have a child of, of that age and they’re going to prom, don’t do it.

Nicole: No! Here’s one that I hadn’t known and Jana educated me on is actually voguing. So, you know, I’m doing it for those, if there’s a video that comes out where you can watch us doing it. Voguing, which Madonna put on everyone’s radar, is actually rooted in black ballroom or ball culture, which is an LGBTQ plus subculture originating in New York City.

Cross-dressing pageants existed in New York City as early as the 1920s, but they mostly consisted of white men. These segregated pageants included nonwhite members of the LGBTQ plus community, but because of racial oppression, there were only white judges and surprise, only white men won prizes. So Black, African-American and Latinx members of this community, therefore decided to create their own balls. The first ball to launch the house culture of the ballroom scene as we know it today was started by two black Queens, trans women, who started the Royal House of LaBeija in 1972.

It was within this new blackball culture that voguing was born. Now Madonna’s song and music video Vogue brought awareness of voguing to the general public. She hired two members of the House of Extravaganza, the first all Latinx ballroom house founded in 1982, to choreograph the dance to give authenticity to the movement and included them in her music video.

But Madonna was criticized for not properly crediting or attributing the dance to black ball culture and only naming white celebrities in her song. So that’s, that’s a cultural appropriation example for me. So when you think about, or see voguing, just know that Madonna doesn’t own it and she never did.

Ada: I remember learning about this in a class in college and it was just mindblowing and the fact that we still have to bring it up as an example to me today, you know, many years later, it just shows me that there’s still so much work to be done.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. And I said earlier, you know in a future episode, we’ll talk about how to know if you’re cultural appropriating and culturally appropriating rather, and what to do, or, um, What to do when you see it or how to respond, maybe even, you know, the differences between the levels of knowledge around cultural appropriation

I think if there’s one thing you should take from today’s episode, it’s that cultural appropriation is complicated. And we will have lots of links and reading and resources in our show notes for more about this topic. all right. 

Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode. The first episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week, we will be talking about mental health and sewing. And in our other upcoming episodes, we have special guests coming on to talk about all sorts of different topics like quilting pattern testing, bag, making even some fabric history.

And if you like our show, you can support us by following us on Instagram @asiansewistcollective, that’s one word, Asian Sewist Collective, and you can help us by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would also really appreciate it. If you could rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

All of the links and resources that we mentioned in today’s episode will also be in our show notes on our website. That’s AsianSewistCollective.com. And we would love to hear from you, email us with your questions, comments, voice messages, ideas. If you want to be featured on a future episode at asiansewistcollective[at]gmail[dot][com.

Nicole: This episode is brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. The topics we covered were researched by Jana Ai Morimoto. This episode was produced by Mariko Abe and edited by Leslie Rehm Hunt. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast, and we’ll see you next week.

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