After being criticized for cultural insensitivity to American Indians, clothing and accessories giant Paul Frank Industries has found a way to support the Native American community. Last September, Paul Frank hosted a “Dreamcatchin’ Party” and “pow wow” for Fashion Night Out. The event featured its famous monkey mascot in a feather headdress, as well as guests wearing war paint and tomahawks, and drinks with names like “Rain Dance Refresher” and “Neon TeePee.” (The invitation and an associated story can be seen on Jezebel here.) The event was soundly criticized in social media by Native American groups, which believed that the cultural appropriation was insensitive, inappropriate, and racist.
Paul Frank Industries reached out to individual critics and decided to take action to showcase Native designs, but “to do it right.” The company selected four Native American designers from various tribes who had unique artistic styles to produce a line of products ranging from eyewear and jewelry to tote bags and t-shirts. (An interview with Elie Dekel, president of Saban Brands, the parent company of Paul Frank, can be found on NPR here.) The line of clothing and accessories will be released this week. The company wanted to release the line this week in particular because it is the time of the Indian Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is one of the largest gatherings of Native American artists in the country. Dekel stated that “working with the [Native American] community in an endemic and sincere and authentic fashion has been an incredibly refreshing experience… and one that we hope will be looked at by others in the fashion design and licensing industries as a template.”
(In full disclosure, I consulted with the estate of Crazy Horse for several years on intellectual property issues and worked with them to approach their concerns outside of the courtroom by seeking extra-legal solutions such as these to some of their concerns.)