Should fashion celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

I’ve written a lot about “decolonization” over the past months. And the subject still merits much more thought and even more words—or at least some more nuanced considerations that recognize the many layers of complexity behind decoloniality and  some more specific “case studies” to exemplify what I mean when I say that fashion creatives have abused the term perhaps a little too much.

There’s so much left to say about decolonization that I could have continued expanding on the topic today. And I indeed wanted to.

Until I realized that Hispanic Heritage Month begins on Friday.

So I have to address that subject instead, right?

For those unfamiliar with Hispanic Heritage Month: it is the 30-day period in which the United States aims to celebrate “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” (Or rather, the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean and the Americas.) It starts on September 15th and covers the Independence anniversaries of several countries, as well as the Día de la Raza (known in the US as Columbus Day), on October 12th. By the way, some of us prefer to commemorate cultural diversity or—better—Indigenous Resistance on this day.

Just like in other thematic months in the United States—such as Black History Month (February) or Native American Heritage Month (November)—this is a time when brands and media of all kinds try to capitalize on the histories, cultures, and contributions of Hispanic and Latinx people to the United States.

As Hispanic Heritage Month begins, fashion brands and media will start to roll out their yearly roundups of Latin American designers, brands, models, and creatives to know.

Last year, for example, Saks recruited Madrid-born fashion designer Alejandra Alonso Rojas, Mexican-American professional football player Sofia Huerta, and Afro-Native Dominican archivist and filmmaker Djali Brown-Cepeda to model for a campaign that spotlighted Hispanic and Latinx brands. In past years, too, retailers such as Neiman Marcus have designed special window displays to showcase the creations of Hispanic and Latinx designers. And even ultra-fast fashion giant SheIn commissioned five large-scale murals from Latinx artists to cover the façade of a pop-up shop in Los Angeles.

I don’t know who needs to hear this (because it seems obvious to me), but none of these campaigns were about truly celebrating or highlighting the centuries-long contributions of Hispanic and Latinx creatives to global fashion. Instead, they are more of a marketing strategy to increase sales (and profits) for the brand. It would be interesting to find out how much of the profit increase goes to Hispanic and Latinx communities, especially those who are truly affected by systemic inequalities and discrimination within the United States.

Media, on their side, have shared collections of industry “leaders,” people “you should know,” or occasionally a trend or two that are rooted in Latin American culture and traditions. The latter I find particularly problematic because it returns to the essentialist ideas that have shaped stereotypes of what “Latin American” fashion and aesthetics are and should look like. These usually include bold colors, flared silhouettes, off the shoulder necklines, and golden maxi-hoops. Just like the brand campaigns, these publications are the result of a marketing strategy (and often generate commissions from affiliate links) more than a genuine move towards inclusion.

But that doesn’t mean that we should just get rid of “celebrations” like Hispanic Heritage Month. Nor does it mean that monthly themes don’t have the potential to actually help us advance towards more inclusivity and diversity in fashion, the arts, and the society of the United States more broadly.

In fact, precisely because of the many publications and special features created by brands and media of all sorts around Hispanic Heritage Month, more and more people can learn and know about Latinx fashion designers, models, brands, and trends—and people and culture in general. (We still need to work on the history and intellectual side of it, though.) With these features, representation is also increasing—although we should aim for it year round, not just during one dedicated time period every year. And it might sound obvious, but, regardless of when the features are published, we can access them any time.

So at least there’s a base from which to start expanding the narratives of fashion by highlighting the important contributions of Hispanic and Latinx people to fashion in both the United States and the world. These contributions seem especially relevant this year, for the 2023 theme of Hispanic Heritage Month is “Latinos: Driving Prosperity, Power, and Progress in America.”

Would the United States fashion industry have prospered if it weren’t for the labor of millions of Hispanic and Latinx garment workers? Would it be able to achieve sustainable progress if it weren’t for the (mostly Indigenous) knowledge behind ethical fiber sourcing and organic textile production based in Latin America? Would fashion brands be able to “prove” their diversity if it weren’t for the many Latinx that populate their workforce (even if we still need to see more in higher ranks)?

I don’t think so.

Finally, from the existing publications, campaigns and features and the initial questions we ask from them, we could finally embark on more profound forms of research that, as I wrote in June, are essential for fashion designers, brands, and creatives to truly diversify fashion and achieve more sustainable and socially just practices in the industry. For example, we could start unveiling the names of Latinx people who’ve worked “in the shadow” of larger (and mostly white) brands and more famous designers. We could also study the construction details and design practices of Latin American labels from the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. Or, finally, we could be inspired by the diversity of aesthetics that originate from “Latin America,” instead of focusing just on tropical beaches and exotic jungles.

With this in mind, how will you honor Hispanic and Latinx heritage this month? Share your ideas in my blog’s comment section, via email, or on social media.

And two quick announcements  before I leave: First, I’ve launched an Instagram channel where I’ll be sharing “quick” thoughts, news, and things to read/watch as I continue to think about how to transform fashion for the better. And second, if you’d like to see deeper dives into how to expand the narrative of fashion, resources, product and brand recommendations, and even short news analysis, please consider joining my Patreon community 🙂

As always, thank you, thank you for reading and until next time!

—L 🩷

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