I really hate that I have to call out yet another Western designer/company after the Paul Smith debacle of a couple of years ago when they took the Peshawari chappal and claimed it as their own design. But here we go again, and this time the culprits are Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, who have taken Sindh’s ajrak and called it “Baroque Print” or “Moroccan print” (also “Elephant Print“).
Not only have they done this but they’ve also made a dress and a bikini out of it respectively – the dress isn’t so bad but the bikini is an insult to Sindhis, as we don’t believe in taking this piece of cloth and putting it on your ass. A couple of years ago I saw a non-Sindhi Pakistani man who made a pair of pants out of ajrak and was prancing around in them like some kind of crazed gazelle. Even after he was told by several of us Sindhis that it was very inappropriate, he said, “I don’t care,” and continue to prance, breaking all our hearts simultaneously.
The ajrak is a cotton blockprinted cloth produced in Sindh, the southernmost province of Pakistan. It is dyed with indigo and vegetable dyes from plants grown on the banks of the Indus River. Every Sindhi has at least one in their household. They’re worn as turbans, shawls, quilts, used to wrap belongings or carry children, used to decorate homes. When an honored guest visits a Sindhi, we will gift them an ajrak by draping it over their shoulders.
Ajraks are our pride and our heritage. They mark us symbolically as people from the land of Sindh, a beautiful province of peace and tolerance. An ajrak is a cloth of honor for honorable people. You don’t take someone’s honor and do THIS to it. Yeah, you’re going to say it was “inspired” and you put your own twist on it, but try fooling someone else, please.
How many times will Western companies take something from us and turn it into a crass moneymaking travesty? I’m getting really tired of pointing out the cultural appropriation. When will you learn your lesson?
EDIT: Pakistani writer Moni Mohsin tells me Isabel Marant also “plundered” Sindhi textiles for her SS2016 collection. This isn’t ajrak, but it does definitely have similarities to cloth patterns woven in Sindh and Balochistan.
Thanks to Syed Ahmed Bukhari whose article “Whose Clothes Are These Anyway” had the original images reproduced below.