Apr 23, 2015 - A Tribe Called Coach(ella): Coach Inc’s Latest Collection & “Festival Inspiration”, By Megan Red Shirt-Shaw

I am a Native American consumer who has actively gone to Coach stores with the intention to purchase. I am also a Native American music festival attendee who has actively had to shield my eyes from someone dancing by me while wearing the headdress.  As was first reported by Native Max MagazineCoach Inc recently announced its new collection “A Tribe Called Coach” with the tagline “Our free-spirited, festival-inspired take on the tribal trend is here” with photographs of items that include names like “Dakotah” “Hawk feather size zipped sweatshirt” and “Dreamweaver shawl” – mixed in with other names having to do with taxis, braided leather, and beach sandals with feathered detail. One of the bracelets on the website is described as having “custom-cast feathers, cameos, military stars and whimsical skulls meet petite Coach hangtags and glittering Swarovski crystals on this striking, unexpected design” – giving off a strange mix of pride for American militarism and perhaps passed on Indians. The launches promo video sets two girls in the desert listening to music reflective of old westerns & holding feathers to the wind. Overall, the attempts at Native style that I can pull out from the different designs try to reflect the Southwest, Plains Indians and other communities from across the country who traditionally wouldn’t have been near the desert where Coachella is hosted, which is where the setting seems to be placed. As a Native American woman with love of style and pride for my culture, I have to ask myself: why am I supporting this brand and will I ever again?

Let me start with the piece about being a Native American consumer. Across the country, different Native American activists have stood up against brands to call out on cultural appropriation and stereotyping with other high end brands likeRalph Lauren, or designers at New York Fashion week. I love looking at fashion blogs just as much as the next non-Native girl. I love seeing Native designers come into the arena with full force. At the end of the day, for those of us who are Indigenous and take great pride in saving up for a beautiful bag or beautiful necklace after hard work and excitement for the reward – this is disappointing. We want to take pride in walking into a store and feeling proud of all we are, within a country who doesn’t quite understand us as sovereign nations or as a part of the framework for consumerism.

The other end of the issue is that Coach is perpetuating stereotypes on the ground at music festivals across the country by launching a brand that helps us move backwards in our fight for recognition as “real people” and not props or costumes. As Indigenous activists, we’ve been trying really hard to segregate the idea of “being free spirited and Native” with “music festival.” Again, as a hard working Lakota, I don’t at all equate who I am or the Native people who have molded me with floating around on a lawn and being free spirited. In fact, doing the math on the cost of some of these bags (the hand woven leather bag sitting at $1045) + the cost of our favorite headdress appropriator’s lawn seats at Coachella ($375 General Admission) we’re looking at “free-spirited and festival inspired” sitting at a cost of about $1,420. I actually think reflecting on that would make someone come to realize that cost and desire to fit a certain trend comes at a steep investment and is in fact, not free spirited at all. I also have to point out that A Tribe Called Red was one of the performers at Coachella this year. They were lucky not to see a single headdress, but I wonder how many tribal prints designed by non-Natives happened to be in the crowd that night – next year; they may even be by the one and only Coach Inc.

The next generation of America is rising and it’s important to reflect on how many sets of eyes get to see brands like this come up through social media. This launch hits hundreds of thousands of email inboxes, Facebook feeds & Twitter hashtags at once and for those who aren’t up on contemporary Native issues; these style patterns have become normalized. Being “Native and free-spirited” has become the brainchild of American music festivals in a country that believes we’ve faded out completely. Brands like Coach are appropriating styles from communities that live on in strength and in numbers for our kids – I want my own someday kids to go to Coachella to see their favorite band play and feel like no one is stealing our cultural identity disrespectfully. I want them to be 21stcentury contemporary citizens with pride for their background as seamlessly as is possible. As long as companies like Coach Inc. continue to sell products like these without consulting their creative sources, i.e. Native Americans, we continue to live in an America that doesn’t want to identify us as consumers, fashion designers, or people of opinion. Coach and Coachella, we don’t want to be your festival inspiration, native-inspired or not. Reach out and let us teach you what it means to be inspired Natives.

Last Real Indians