Luxury brands Fendi and LV under fire for selling Palestinian Keffiyeh and 'profiting off oppression'

Updated 04 Jun, 2021 07:40pm

Images Staff

Palestine's symbol of resistance and nationalism isn't a fashion statement.

High-end brands like Fendi and Louis Vuitton are being called out for culturally appropriating the Palestinian Keffiyeh and passing it off as an exorbitantly priced stole or scarf.

The items that incorporate the traditional jacquard weave technique are retailing for up to $705 (over Rs109,000).

What is the Keffiyeh and why is this problematic?

A traditional Arabian scarf worn on the head throughout the Middle East, the Keffiyeh is a thick black and white chequered cloth that has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity in Palestine.

By simply calling it a 'stole', the brands are essentially appropriating a prominent identification of their culture, and stealing someone's symbol of nationalism. The use of the blue and white colours (the same colours in Israel's flag) by Louis Vuitton are tone deaf at best or a passive form of political commentary.

The issue was brought to attention by Instagram account Diet Prada, who called out the brand for taking a neutral stance on the issue yet charging exorbitant prices on an item that profits off Palestine's suffering.

"So LVMH’s stance on politics is 'neutral,' but they’re still making a $705 logo-emblazoned keffiyeh, which is a traditional Arab headdress that’s become a symbol of Palestinian nationalism? Hmm" the fashion critic posted.

Soon after, author and lawyer Khalid Beydoun pointed out how other high end companies, such as Fendi, were also monetising oppression.

"It's more of a pattern than an isolated incident," he had said. "Stop trying to appropriate, mangle and mutate the Kaffiyeh."

This is just one of many instances where ethnic designs have been copied and replicated in the West and sold at exorbitant prices with no acknowledgement of the original. From Christian Louboutin selling peshawari chappals as glamorous Imran sandals, English menswear designer Sir Paul Smith replicating these chappals as his own, or New York-based fashion brand Sea selling ajrak print as the colour 'brick multi', credit is rarely given to the cultures or people that created these designs.

Why this isn't something to be taken casually

The reason why we shouldn't just laugh off these "stoles" is because the Keffiyeh is a symbol of the Palestinian people, people who are being brutalised and oppressed, and these brands don't support them. They haven't released statements saying they stand with the Palestinian people yet they want to profit off a garment that is symbolic of their people.

Not only have Fendi and Louis Vuitton chosen not to acknowledge the Keffiyeh's Palestinian origin but have also rebranded it for commercialism purposes.

Desi Twitter caught wind of this latest instance of cultural appropriation and outrage ensued.

What is the difference between appropriation and inspiration?

There is a fine line between appropriation and inspiration. When it comes to appropriation, the debate always focuses on a dominant culture borrowing from a minority. That being said, just because Palestinian support is trending worldwide does not make it okay for brands to profit off their oppression simply because none of that money is being used to help Palestinians.

Cultural appropriation erases the community from which it was taken and is ignorant of the context behind the item or design that has been appropriated because to appropriators, it's a money-making, fashion trend.

Culture is not a trend. Oppression is not a trend. Genocide is not something to be capitalised off.

It's 2021 and we need to collectively do better. We need to understand that some items are intertwined with certain cultures and painful histories and that if we monetise these items without giving people their due credit or recognition, we are not only being disrespectful but extremely insensitive.