Are religious symbols in jewelry cultural appropriation?
For centuries humans have used jewelry and gemstones as a means to practice and represent their faith and culture. Whether amulets of protection on armor or beads for prayer, this history is deep and rich. In our modern, globalized society, we come into contact with the artifacts of other cultures on a daily basis. It is easy then to “try on” the cultures of others without spending the time to immerse yourself in a full scope of learning of the meaning and purpose of that symbol. We call this “trying on” cultural appropriation. The global fashion and accessory industry has perpetuated cultural appropriation through trends “inspired by” other cultures’ symbols or design elements (The Courier, 2022). From evil eye symbols appearing on garments en masse to the use of African and Batik printed fabric without a clear connection to the history of the design, appropriation is everywhere (WWD, 2020). Further, the western wellness industry has adopted many symbols and practices from Eastern religions without proper reverence to their origins (The Guardian, 2022).
Now this is not to say we cannot appreciate and participate in other cultures’ practices and fashions. The key is to take the time to learn about and respect the history of the practice, do so with members of that group, and know that there are simply some symbols and activities that will never be for you as a non-member. Think of it like being invited over to a friend’s home for dinner, and they have cooked you a traditional dish. You enjoy that dish within the invited context as opposed to trying to try on that traditional dish yourself. Certainly the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation is often nuanced. A good place to start is respecting the opinions and lived experiences of members of that group on how those symbols and designs can and should be used.
This is why as a business we have moved away from the use of cultural and religious symbols in our jewelry designs, despite there certainly being a market for those types of designs. We have decided that profit from another group’s symbols without a direct connection to or context surrounding is cultural appropriation. I hate to admit that we did not start this way. Our brand is rooted in cultivating positive spiritual, emotional and physical well-being and at the time our brand was founded, I was immersing myself in several Eastern cultures via yoga and meditative work. I felt a connection to some of these symbols and rituals that I had never experienced before in my ancestral culture. Where my roots seemed to have practices that discounted the self and shamed those who deviated from the “rules”, I sought something different to heal the parts of myself that were broken and to connect with like-minded souls who wanted to make the world a kinder place. So we chose the name luxe.zen and the stylized lotus logo as a homage to rising from the muddy waters of our past and blooming. What we did not do was clearly understand the origins of the lotus symbol in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religions and the true meaning of zen within the context of Mahayana Buddhism founded in China & Japan. We took these symbols and concepts, applied them in our own personal context, and thus the real significance was lost. We are deeply sorry for the naivete of this decision and take full accountability for any harm this may have caused.
Therefore, after over a year of sitting with this and trying to birth a new identity for ourselves that aligns with personal well-being and ethical sourcing and manufacturing, we are nearly ready. Our new brand pulls to the beauty of the cosmos and the beauty of choosing to step forward through the doorway to a kinder future. More to come.
The normalisation of cultural appropriation in Fashion. The Courier Online. (n.d.). Retrieved May 3, 2023, from https://www.thecourieronline.co.uk/the-normalisation-of-cultural-appropriation-in-fashion/
Obi Anyanwu, T. B.-L., Anyanwu, O., & Blazio-Licorish, T. (2020, November 5). How cultural appropriation became a hot-button issue for fashion. WWD. Retrieved May 3, 2023, from https://wwd.com/feature/how-cultural-appropriation-became-a-hot-button-issue-for-fashion-1234579968/Guardian News and Media. (2022, December 12). 'cultural appropriation': Discussion builds over Western Yoga Industry. The Guardian. Retrieved May 3, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/dec/12/cultural-appropriation-discussion-builds-over-western-yoga-industry