Don't Steal Our Culture!

Don't Steal Our Culture!


Luxury brands often try to overcome cultural boundaries in what they intend to be an homage to exotic lifestyles and fashion as well as an attempt to attract customers with different tastes. Yet these initiatives sometimes backfire, exposing the brand to harmful accusations of cultural appropriation which can result in very significant image problems. A new paper published by Gabriella Lojacono of Bocconi’s Department of Management and Technology reviews multiple cases of cross-cultural initiatives to discover that when brands show genuine respect and real interest for other cultures, as opposed to exploitation and misinterpretation, they can escape this form of criticism.
Defining cultural appropriation is not completely straightforward. It is even harder to judge beforehand whether images and items can amount to cultural appropriation, because to some extent it is a matter of personal interpretation, and something that looks offensive to someone might be seen as harmless by someone else.
Yet, younger generations seem to be more sensitive than their elders to cultural appropriation, and their strong presence on social media might explain why such accusations are becoming more frequent.
In any case, whenever an object is recontextualized improperly, which usually means with scant consideration for its original context, we have an instance of cultural appropriation. This becomes even more toxic if it is seen as a relic of colonialism, that is a form of exploitation of a marginalized community by a stronger party, as luxury brands can easily be portrayed.
What are then the rules to follow in order to prevent being accused of appropriation? According to Lojacono, “it is important to be precise about the concept and the purpose behind the creation when basing a design on a culture outside one's own. Brands must ask themselves why they are using cultural elements they are unfamiliar within their collections, ensuring that their reasons align with the meaning and value that the originating culture ascribes to those elements. Brands must also avoid copying or precisely imitating a technique, as doing so would quickly become a form of plagiarism.”
The paper outlines three key recommendations for marketers of luxury brands which should be considered whenever they draw inspiration from other cultures. First of all, there must be a deep understanding of these cultures, so that it can be possible to learn what elements may be especially sensitive and to respect them accordingly. Second, giving explicit credit to the source of inspiration is another important step, also to reinforce the perception that a certain culture has been studied and not just imitated. Thirdly, great care must be given to showing respect, avoiding all forms of stereotyping and mockery.
Gabriella Lojacono, “The fine line between localization and cultural appropriation in personal luxury goods: An exploratory study” Strategic Change,1–10.

by Andrea Costa
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