Paul Frank Collaborates with Native American Designers for Fall 2013 Collection
Courtesy of the designers Candace Halcro, Louie Gong, Dustin Quinn Martin, and Autumn Dawn Gomez
Jessica R. Metcalfe complains. It comes with the territory, being a prominent watchdog blogger and scholar who covers and studies how Native American imagery is appropriated for fashion.
She calls designers and companies out on her blog, Beyond Buckskin, when they misuse Native imagery (think: headdresses on the Victoria's Secret runway, "Navajo" print panties at Urban Outfitters). Sometimes they apologize; sometimes they don't. She complains, and usually that's it.
But when Metcalfe (who is Turtle Mountain Chippewa) lodged a complaint against family-friendly clothing and accessories company Paul Frank Industries in September 2012, the brand's response surprised her.
The reason she complained? Paul Frank hosted a very photographed, very offensive powwow-themed party (held in conjunction with Fashion's Night Out) where attendees were photographed playing with toy tomahawks, mock-scalping each other, and sporting "war paint" in celebration of the launch of the brand's Native-inspired T-shirt line, which featured the iconic monkey character Julius in a headdress and pictured with a dreamcatcher under the phrase "caught in a dream."
Metcalfe sent a message to the company and posted it on its Facebook wall, too. She and Native Appropriations blogger Adrienne Keene (Cherokee) were at the fore of the discussion. Her demands included that, in addition to the 1,000-plus photos being removed from the social networking site, an apology must be issued for the blatant racism. She also suggested that if Paul Frank was genuinely interested in Native American culture and designs, then the folks at the company should consider working with a native designer.
"[Paul Frank's president Elie Dekel] extended an invitation to take this bad situation and make it something good," Metcalfe says. "So that's what we've been working on for the last nine months."
The company reached out to Keene and Metcalfe, who runs an all-Native online shop called Beyond Buckskin Boutique in conjunction with her blog, and asked how to move forward and create a line with Native designers.
"It was a complete shock and surprise for me because whenever I do critique companies and individuals I rarely get a response from those companies," she says. So, a little hesitant, she offered up talented designers that she thought could stylistically gel with the company to create a collaborative line.