How The Volta Is Fighting Cultural Appropriation In Fashion

Photos by Bryon Summers and Darden Creative

“It’s not just a fashion problem. It’s a culture problem.”

The topic of cultural appropriation in art reached fever pitch a month ago when Dana Schutz’s painting, depicting the mutilated face of Emmett Till, was featured at the Whitney Museum of American Art's Biennial. The painting drew protests from artists and activists, who felt the 1955 torture and murder of a black teenager was an inappropriate subject for a white artist to tackle. This debate, like appropriation debates of the past, is complex and fraught with vestiges of America’s complicated racial history. What’s clear is that a large part of the offense of appropriation is centered in exclusion. Artists of color have historically been and continue to often be excluded from the Whitneys, the MoMAs, and the major artistic platforms of the world, but have their lived experiences observed and exploited by the artists who have access to these platforms. It’s the quintessential example of helping to craft the menu and preparing the meal but not being granted a seat at the table.

Danielle Kwateng noticed this same problem in the fashion world. She spent seven years working as a fashion editor and became disenchanted with the dearth of black and, in particular, African designers. She noticed that many of them had trouble finding platforms for their work and were excluded from major fashion labels, although the influence of Africa, and its diaspora, has been evident on basically all of the biggest runways in the world.

In response, Kwateng launched The Volta last October, an e-commerce destination that features designers from the African diaspora. Kwateng, who is a first-generation Ghanaian-American, started the business from her own personal savings and runs it out of the two-bedroom Brooklyn, New York, apartment she shares with her husband. She hosted her first event last month in New York City, where she sold apparel and moderated a discussion on unity through music, fashion, and literature. In regard to artistic exclusion, Kwateng says, “It’s all connected. I have a growing consciousness of African art, and I’m seeing how the same thing that happens in the museums and in film, is connected to what happens on the runways. It’s not just a fashion problem. It’s a culture problem.”

Exclusion isn’t the only challenge for African designers. “If you go to parts of Ghana or to Lagos, you realize it’s really the land of tailors. Everything is made-to-order, custom. I’m really proud of the artistry in that, but it doesn’t necessarily bode well in a mass market.” Kwateng uses that as an asset and insists on quality over quantity. Right now, The Volta site hosts a small but carefully curated selection of accessories from all over the globe, along with a few apparel pieces donning The Volta brand name.

She has plans to expand, but not at the expense of finding authentic pieces that speak to the spirit of the culture, although she is careful to note that the culture varies depending on what part of the continent you’re in. “Africa is not a monolith. South Africa is different from Ghana, is different from Kenya, but there are certain consistencies. Everything is usually vibrant and often earthy and earth-related. There’s a large respect for nature in African fashion. Typically, what you see in the mainstream is Ankara or Kente prints, and those are great, but there’s so much more.” 

And she’s determined to find more. She views herself as a curator more than anything and has taken trips to Accra and Johannesburg recently to meet local designers. She also does a lot of her research on Instagram and has a long list of designers from all over the world with whom she would like to work. “There are so many designers I want to work with.  I’m loving Loza Maleombho, Collective Closets, Bantu Wax, Andrea Iyamah. There’s so so much talent. So much has been taken from the continent of Africa. I just want to be a vessel for these artists to be compensated for their genius.”

Check out more of what The Volta is doing, here.

Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Which one, though?

Kim Kardashian is suing fast fashion retailer Missguided, claiming that the brand uses her image to spark interest in and sell its clothing. This lawsuit comes a few days after a theory, that she may be selling her own vintage clothing designs to fast fashion brands so that they can rip them off, made its rounds on the internet.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kardashian's attorney Michael Kump writes that "Missguided systematically uses the names and images of Kardashian and other celebrities to advertise and spark interest in its website and clothing." Other celebrities that the brand has tagged on its Instagram include Cardi B and Dua Lipa, along with the other members of the Kardashian-Jenner family.

Kump uses the example of the Yeezy dress that Kim posted to Instagram, which was ripped off by the brand within a couple of hours. "Recently, for example, after Kardashian posted a photo on Instagram of a dress that was made for her... Missguided quickly responded with its own Instagram post... boasting that it would be ripping off the design within 'a few days,'" Kump continues. "Missguided purposefully inserted Kardashian's Instagram username (@KimKardashian) into its post to capitalize on her celebrity status and social media following in promoting the sale of its upcoming product."

Kump also draws attention to the fact that the brand uses Kardashian's name so much that it may lead others to believe that she works with the brand, which, he wants to make clear, she does not: "Missguided's U.S. website has included entire pages that are devoted solely to the sale of clothing inspired by Kardashian, and on which Kardashian's name and likeness are prominently used without her permission to promote the products."

Some are noting that it's suspicious that Kardashian is not suing Fashion Nova, as well, since the brand most recently ripped off a vintage Mugler gown that Kardashian wore. Though it may be harder for Kardashian to make any claims since timestamps have revealed that the dress was made before Kardashian premiered the dress.



Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

He previously claimed to be a victim of a hate crime

According to reports, actor Jussie Smollett has been arrested by the Chicago Police Department. As CNN outlines, he's facing a felony charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report. If found guilty, he could face up to three years in prison.

The Empire star previously claimed that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime on January 29. He alleged that two masked men attacked him, tied a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and yelled, "This is MAGA country!" Brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo were eventually arrested and brought in for questioning, during which news broke that one appeared on Empire and the other worked as Smollett's personal trainer. Now, according to both men and reports, it's being said that Smollett paid them to "orchestrate" the attack.

Smollett's attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, have issued a statement regarding their client's defense. "Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked," they told Deadline. "Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense."

If this is all true, this unfortunate turn of events should in no way take away from the fact that there is an abundant number of racially and sexually motivated attacks happening all of the time. They also still remain vastly underreported, so it's essential to listen to alleged victims, always.