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Native people have always been business owners, artists, and hustlers, but it wasn’t until recent years that the mainstream business world saw the boom of Indigenous excellence. Thanks to the internet and social media, today we have the unique opportunity to ditch fake, “Native-inspired” pieces and buy authentic Indigenous designs as easily as we order from Amazon.
Unfortunately, this is a relatively new option, so there are a lot Native and non-Native folks who purchased items that feature fake “Native-inspired” art before there was a readily-available alternative. And until recently, it could be hard for the average consumer to tell the difference between fake and authentic Native designs, let alone find home goods designed by actual Native artists, making it difficult to celebrate Native culture through everyday items.
While we now know better than to buy Native-inspired products and can commit to supporting only authentic Native designs in the future, what do we do with the fake Native-inspired pieces we currently have? Should we feel shame and guilt? Should we throw out all our Native-inspired pieces? The answer is: No! At Eighth Generation, we are committed to learning, growing, and being as sustainable as possible. We don’t believe the answer is shame, nor is it adding to a landfill. This blog post will share stories and ideas that are meant to empower you to make ethical decisions when you purchase cultural art from now on, and help you feel good about the choices you make in the future.
The blanket on the right is by a popular non-Native US retailer who has built their business on appropriating Native designs, using Native motifs, symbols, and iconography; the 100% Merino wool scarf is Eighth Generation's Jumping Frog Wool Scarf, designed by David Robert Boxley (Tsimshian) and in our Seattle studio. All our artists are authentic Native artists, working with the designs and symbols of their culture; Eighth Generation is proud to fairly pay our Native artists to use their artwork on products as well as share the cultural stories and teachings that go together with each piece of art
As a teenager, my family walked past this popular American hipster store that had Native-looking leggings and shoes in the window display. “Everyone wants to be Native,” my mom said begrudgingly as we walked past. I knew what she meant—everyone wants to wear Native-looking fashion and have Native-looking art in their homes, but only when it's cool. They don’t want to take on any of the hardships that come with the generational trauma associated with colonization and the circumstances of being a minority population.
I knew she meant that people want to look Native, but not be Native, because I had already learned and experienced many harmful stereotypes about my heritage and brown skin and felt some of that racial shame even as a child.
I wanted to wear Native designs so that I could be proud of my heritage and also show off my style, but I couldn’t do it authentically with what was available in stores back then (2010s). Everywhere from Walmart to Buckle, American Eagle to Pendleton had fake Native-inspired clothes, blankets, and jewelry, so there was no easy way for me to represent my Native self in fashion authentically. It didn’t even matter how high-end or not the brand was—it was all fake. Real Native designs just weren’t accessible. If you wanted to wear something that “looked Native,” your option was to purchase fake, Native-inspired stuff by non-Native designers.
Stephanie Masterman (Tlingit) holds our Inspired Natives sticker outside our first flagship store in Pike Place Market in 2016
Stephanie's experience is far from unique: many of us have wanted to wear or display Native art or fashion but found only Native-inspired options. Maybe you have a fake Native-inspired blanket tucked away in your closet that you purchased before you found Eighth Generation. Or maybe you were gifted some trendy Native-inspired jewelry that you now realize isn’t actually designed by a Native artist. Perhaps you have a T-shirt or sweatshirt with an outdated racist mascot or Native motif on it that was definitely not designed by a Native artist.
What do you do with these fake or harmful items now that you’ve committed to only purchasing authentic Native designs that have been ethically sourced from actual Native artists (meaning the artists were fairly compensated for their time and skill)?
We don’t want the fake art to extend its life through donations and we don’t want it to be committed to a landfill where it contributes to the already monumental amount of textile waste. That leaves us with two options: repurposing or recycling.
There are a lot of creative ways to use items that are still in good condition, but not acceptable to wear around. Basic clothing items can be demoted from everyday wear to sleep wear, painting clothes, or turned inside out to do yardwork in (if you don’t want others to see the fake designs).
Other items, like bags and cups, are a little trickier to make into new items. However, you can cover the fake art with new art through patches, stickers, painting, or drawings. Extra points if you reach out to a local Native artist and commission them to cover the fake art!
Need authentic Native-designed stickers to cover up a Native-inspired mistake? Eighth Generation's Inspired Sticker Pack has five designs by authentic Native artists
If the item has reached the end of its life, or if there is no way to repurpose it – consider looking into the best way to recycle it. Every year, 92 million tons of textile waste is produced, and textiles and clothing makes up 7% of the entire amount of waste in landfills. A perfectly usable item should not end up in the landfill if at all possible, and there are ways to recycle textiles. Services like Ridwell will recycle fabric and textiles for a fee, or check out your local recycling center to see what items they take to recycle.
Many animal shelters will recycle or reuse blankets, bedding, towels, and even clothing for bedding and cleaning while they take care of pets waiting for adoption. Check out the ASPCA's donation list to see if there is a shelter in your area in need of your textiles or goods.
Feeling crafty? Clothing can be cut into strips and turned into fabric yarn or woven into blankets and sleeping mats. Alternatively, you can shred the items into batting to fill ottomans and dog beds. Instead of using single-use paper towels for cleaning, cut-up old T-shirts make great cleaning cloths and rags!
Boomer and Rosie say thank you for donating blankets and towels to other pups in need! (They're wearing our New Day Dog Collar & Leash by Anishinaabe/Ojibwe artist Sarah Agaton Howes)
In many Native communities, wool blankets are gifted to honor our elders, special community members, or for momentous occasions. They are a traditional gift and we would never suggest getting rid of wool blankets as their meaning is too important. It wasn’t until 2015, when Louie Gong began Eighth Generation's line of Native-designed wool blankets, that we had the chance to buy wool blankets that were created on a commercial scale by Native designers through a Native company. Now that you can purchase an authentic Native wool blanket, considering opting for an Eighth Generation wool blanket going forward—and encourage your tribal council to source their community blankets from Eighth Generation.
Our CEO, Colleen Echohawk (Pawnee, Athabascan), often shares a story of her family fighting over a mug that was promoting her uncle’s bid for a local government office, because it was the only mug in the house that featured authentic Native designs. Because it was authentic, everyone wanted to use it! Today her home is full of Eighth Generation mugs, so everyone in her family can have a Native-designed cup without fighting over the only option. As many of us work to make sure we exclusively buy real Native art, Eighth Generation makes it easy to buy Inspired Native pieces representing different tribal communities across the nation.
Now that you know there is an alternative to cultural appropriation and fake, Native-inspired pieces, we hope you opt for only authentic Native designs going forward. Cultural appreciation is the right way to uplift this art that has been carried down through generations of resilient Indigenous people. Join us in supporting Inspired Natives, not "Native-inspired," and purchase your Indigenous cultural art pieces only from authentic Native artists and Native-owned businesses like Eighth Generation.
—post by Eighth Generation's Senior Project Manager, Lacee Shepard (Odawa) with Special Project Manager, Stephanie Masterman (Tlingit)