Let’s Talk About Pendleton

February 3, 2011 — 28 Comments
(look from Pendleton’s new “Portland Collection” for Fall 2011. Source here.)
Last night I was cold. So cold, in fact, that I had to pull out not one, but two, of my Pendleton blankets to add some extra warmth to my bed. As I shook them out and laid them on my bed, I thought about how special these blankets are to me–one was a graduation gift, the other a thank you gift for serving on a panel about the “Future of Indian Education.” In many Native communities, Pendleton blankets are associated with important events, and have been for hundreds of years. They are given as gifts at graduations, at powwow give-aways, as thank you gifts, in commemoration of births and deaths, you name it. In addition, I’ve always associated the patterns with Native pride–a way for Natives to showcase their heritage in their home decor, coats, purses, etc. There’s something just distinctly Native about Pendleton to me.
(Stanford Native Graduation from a couple years ago)
But recently, Pendleton prints and fabrics have started popping up everywhere. It started with Opening Ceremony’s Pendleton line in 2010, and now Urban Outfitters has started carrying a Pendelton line, celebrities are wearing Pendleton coats, and Native-themed home decor is apparently all the rage. Now Pendleton has announced their newest collaboration, The Portland Collection, which fashion blogs are proclaiming will be the big thing for 2011.

So what’s the problem? I openly admit that a lot of these designs are adorable, and I would fully sport them (that bag! I love!), if I had a spare $1000 or so. I can’t cry straight up cultural appropriation, because…well, it’s complicated.
Pendelton has been supplying Natives with blankets and robes with Indian designs since the late 1800′s, which the “history” section of their website outlines:

A study of the color and design preferences of local and Southwest Native Americans resulted in vivid colors and intricate patterns. Trade expanded from the Nez Perce nation near Pendleton to the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni nations. These Pendleton blankets were used as basic wearing apparel and as a standard of value for trading and credit among Native Americans. The blankets also became prized for ceremonial use.

It’s almost a symbiotic relationship–they saw a market in Native communities, and Native communities stepped up and bought, traded, and sold the blankets, incorporating them into “traditional” cultural activities. Pendleton has also maintained close ties with Native communities and causes, making commemorative blankets for organizations like the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Indian Education Association. They work with Native artists to design the special edition blankets, and even donate some of the proceeds to the causes.

 (NIEA 40th anniversary blanket)

But then, on the other hand, they go off and do things like design a $5000 blanket with White Buffalo hair, which many tribes consider extremely sacred and definitely off-limits to commercial sale.

I do appreciate Pendleton’s relationship with Native communities. I love my blankets, and love even more what they represent.

 

However, seeing hipsters march down the street in Pendleton clothes, seeing these bloggers ooh and ahh over how “cute” these designs are, and seeing non-Native models all wrapped up in Pendleton blankets makes me upset. It’s a complicated feeling, because I feel ownership over these designs as a Native person, but on a rational level I realize that they aren’t necessarily ours to claim. To me, it just feels like one more thing non-Natives can take from us–like our land, our moccasins, our headdresses, our beading, our religions, our names, our cultures weren’t enough? you gotta go and take Pendleton designs too?

 (source)

Then there’s the whole economic stratification issue of it too, these designs are expensive. The new Portland collection ranges from $48 for a tie to over $700 for a coat, the Opening Ceremony collection was equally, if not more, costly. It almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound, when poverty is rampant in many Native communities, to say “oh we designed this collection based on your culture, but you can’t even afford it!”

So I don’t know. Are all of these designs cultural appropriation? Should I ignore the twinge in my stomach every time I see a Pendleton pattern in the Urban Outfitters window? Should I embrace it as the mainstream fashion scene finally catching up with what we Natives have known since the 1800′s?

Personally, the bottom line is that I would rather associate Pendleton with Native pride and commemorating important events…

(our panel last year)

…than with hipsters, high fashion, and flash-in-the-pan trends. But I’m obviously conflicted. What do you think? Are these designs and trends ok, or do I have a right to be upset?

(Thanks to Precious for getting me thinking about this!)

Adrienne K.

Posts

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10434882024674242926 Steve Julian

    It is a _________ (put description here) relationship for sure. I do like the Pendleton and do associate it with Specials, Gifts, and Indians. I also know it is one company that knew a niche market but is a main stream company with quality goods. Natives have “claimed” the Pendleton with part of their Give-aways and with association of being with other Natives. Pendletons (and now Star Blankets) are associate with blanket ceremonies and all sorts of ceremonies like the Give-Away. Coveted blankets for sure. Not sure if the trendy thing is an issue for me right now.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09047555238324200179 blackwolfcreek

    I’m Native and do not own a pendleton. I probably will never be able to afford one either.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08183686721305419157 Kelly Hogaboom

    I have often wondered your take on Pendleton and I’m glad you wrote it out.

    I think the best thing is to delineate the history – as you have done here, although obviously there could be a more detailed account – and let people decide for themselves. Personally, just reading here means that if I wanted one of their designs, I’d probably step back and look to see if there were sources that more directly supported Natives or Native communities. Maybe there aren’t.

    I have wanted one of the National Parks blankets FOREVER (we had one when I was a kid, a hand-me-down)… now I’m wondering if I should look into what and who I’d be supporting if I purchased one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05009312383673088268 Katlin

    This is so sad and something I have noticed as of late. In magazines people are even using pendleton as background accessories in the shoots. It is sad because I too feel these blankets are meant to be special and those who purchase them outside of Native communities do not understand this distinction. They are similar to a beaded eagle feather or beaded keychain in my home town of Cherokee NC, they are a coming of age gift and this is something so exclusive to the Native American culture and I honestly don’t feel like those outside our communities can understand; it is this misunderstanding that they feel will justify their arguing against us claiming these are part of our culture. Unless someone has grown up in a tribe, I really don’t think they can truly empathize with our culture and see it the way we do.

  • http://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/ thevintagetraveler

    I think the real appropriation took place years ago, when the blankets were first designed and marketed. As the Pendleton site says, the blankets were designed by the mill owners, using designs and colors they thought would appeal to Native consumers. It doesn’t say that these blankets were also sold to White consumers as “Indian” blankets, but of course they were, as were similar blankets by other weavers like Beacon.

    What seems to make the Pendleton blanket different from other appropriations is the fact that it has been embraced for many years by many Native communities. So I can see why you would have these feelings of ownership. It is an important part of your culture.

    This is really not a new development – Pendleton has been putting “Indian” designs on clothing at least since the 1970s. It’s just that now Pendleton has found a way to capitalize on the growing “heritage” trend in clothing styles. Not Native heritage, mind you, but classic American brands heritage. Having collaborations with Urban Outfitters and Opening Ceremony is a way to get Pendleton woolens before a wider, younger, audience. And not just the “Indian” patterns, but the plaids as well.

    When you look at the economic pressures a company like Pendleton faces, just to continue manufacturing in the USA, you can see why they are taking this route. For them, it may make the difference between surviving or not.

    My perspective is that of a clothing historian. I am also the granddaughter of Natives, but I was not reared in a Native community. But I was reared in a community that continues to have its culture appropriated, usually in a negative way. I do realize it is not fun when one’s culture is taken as another’s amusement.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16129210217777837909 delux

    I’m all for cute pendleton, but.

    Have you seen greg tate’s anthology “everything but the burden”? it’s what comes to mind for me: more evidence of people (especially hipsters) wanting everything “cool” ndn people have but none of the burdens or responsibilities of being ndn.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11391821692246018955 Mallory Whiteduck

    The point I found most thought provoking in your post was the relationship between poverty and Pendleton. I think it is *exactly* throwing salt in the wound of colonization. Blankets have cultural significance to our people, and when I think about that relationship I can’t help consider the opposite end of the spectrum – smallpox blankets. I guess, the wound becomes extra salty after we’ve overcome genocide to maintain or reclaim our cultural connection to blankets.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13529938685381736513 Eric

    This is really interesting. I was actually researching for a blog post about this topic when I found your post. I linked it to my blog. Hope you don’t mind – http://www.mocs1986.com/2011/02/going-native-pendleton-and-opening.html

    Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17144442369962765228 Elissa

    This is really interesting–gets me thinking, too. I’m Native, and young, and pretty hip, and pretty white-looking, and I think a lot of those Pendelton fashion items are just incredible. If I had the money, I’d totally be one of the hipsters walking down the street in a Pendleton poncho.

    Or, maybe I wouldn’t. I still have the feeling that I don’t have a Pendleton because I haven’t been gifted a Pendleton. I’m really looking forward to someday having one wrapped around me by someone I respect from my tribe. So maybe I wouldn’t want to buy a super-cute pleated Pendleton skirt with matching blazer, because I’d know I just hadn’t received it right.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02945385659698659077 Julia

    It’s definitely complicated, but I’d say that you have a right to be upset. To me, it’s a sort of “dance with the one who brung you” kind of idea. If the company’s success is in part due to its embrace by the Native community, then it seems not only like good business but like good manners not to metaphorically spit in the faces of that community.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399305342221366691 Mikst

    I can agree with you a lot on your post. It does seem like there is this sense of ownership with the blankets and designs and it makes me cringe to think of these new fashions. I would totally rock some of them though at the same time. Where I come from, the blankets are only given on very special days (graduations for sure, namings, xmas etc).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03088735448523851445 winterfoxf

    OMG THE BAGS

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05250418267847050580 Jaque

    I was referred to your blog after making my own stink about this ridiculous trend. I’m born and bred in the Southwest. I’m from Jemez Pueblo; I am an artist and activist. Thus, when I see cultural misrepresentation or appropriation, I feel that it needs to be addressed. I’m glad they’re like-minded contemporary peers out there who can see the BIG picture. Although Pendleton is a corporation that has existed before such trends, they have existed only because of stealing Pueblo/Navajo design elements & aesthetics, clearly (ie. Pueblo pottery, Navajo rugs.) These designs come from sacred people, clans, moieties, societies & visions. I employ many of these designs in my Art and they have been shared with me by my elders. They are equivalent to totems in Northwestern tribes. Just like a lot of the indigenous “art” in the SW, it has been taken and capitalized upon, mass-produced and has turned sacredness into collectors’ items. Hence, the authenticity conundrum which only exists because of how much MONEY an article is “worth,” with total disregard to what we value it as in our Native culture (The difference between Native American Art & Western/Contemporary Art). The biggest industry in New Mexico is tourism, thanks to OUR aesthetic and way of life, which has benefitted those who live outside the reservation. When I see people, even some “Indians” wearing such designs, I question as to what connection they have with those designs. It’s as though they are attempting to represent my family and clearly they are NOT my brother or sister. Like many other companies, Pendleton has stolen from Native Americans and has sold us our own medicine. However, I do believe in manifesting anything with your intention/will and I have received a few blankets at my young age, with whole-hearted appreciation bt understanding the physical gift as a symbol of a spiritual blessing. Thus, I love the Pendleton blankets in this way. With my heritage/visual aesthetic on Pendleton blankets, I definitely feel comfort in the item. But then again, aren’t blankets a transmission of smallpox? Haha.

  • https://openid.aol.com/opaque/e24eadb0-3536-11e0-a539-000bcdcb2996 e24eadb0-3536-11e0-a539-000bcdcb2996

    This is a tough one for me. I’m a white girl who has owned a Pendleton blanket since I was given one as a graduation gift. I sometimes think about the fact that the design comes from a culture not my own. At the same time, the design (Iroquois turtle) was chosen by the gift giver because it resonated with my life at the time (the mascot of the college I would be attending was a turtle).

    Perhaps strangest of all is the awareness that it is not a quilt. My grandmother gave handmade quilts at important events. I have my baby blanket, the blanket I got when I turned 13, as well as the ones my parents have from older generations that I grew up around, such as the ripple patterned scrapghan that lived on our couch for my entire childhood. The year I graduated high school, my grandmother was still recovering from back surgery. My parents gave me the Pendleton instead.

    I love my Pendleton, and often see it as a positive example of the interaction of cultures. But I also admit that sometimes I wonder if I’m just pacifying my conscious with that thought.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04102491448931498925 Porter

    I’m an art teacher in Southern AZ. I’m also a potter who first learned how to make a pot by digging clay, processing it, handbuilding, and pit-firing. I’m a white guy, and I teach my kids about Native American art, but I’m not trying to be Indian. I try to include the more sticky points of indigenous art into my curriculum and let the students work out the complexities. The Pendleton issue is perfect for my class.

    I guess I’m of the opinion that we artists and educators have a responsibility to research the cultural significance of any symbol that we use/teach. Most people don’t do this. (If I see another Kokopeli mailbox, I’m going to barf!) But with Pendleton…it’s almost triple appropriation, and the question of ownership gets all whacked.
    I would never a Hopi symbol on my pots…it’s just not mine to use. But living in the Southwest, I can’t help but be effected by Native American pottery. And what about Mata Ortiz pottery? These gifted Mexican potters have appropriated symbols from the prehistoric Paquime, despite not claiming to be decendants. Is that okay? It’s a cunundrum I think about quite a bit.

    So many good thoughts here! Thanks for getting me thinking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12623215565673008494 B

    I’m a white person with a Pendleton. I bought it for myself when I was looking for a good wool blanket from humanely-raised sheep (more on that below). However, I was already reading this blog by then, so I purchased a design that didn’t look Indian (to me, at least)- just broad bands of deep blue, red, and green.

    (Re: humanely-sourced wool: I’m concerned about the practice of mulesing on merino sheep in Australia, so it seemed sensible to purchase from Pendleton. I actually wrote to their customer service about it beforehand, and got a very thorough and considered response, but the bottom line was “The majority of wools woven into Pendleton products are raised domestically where mulesing is not practiced.”)

    So…I think ultimately what I’m trying to say is that I think they have a good product, and can offer non-appropriative designs for non-Native peoples. But what they’re doing now seems to be catering to the current hipster fascination with all things Indian, which, while probably profitable, is insensitive to their Indian customers. Who, I might add, are not just customers, but also part of Pendleton’s brand image.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12140420139636261282 Overquoted

    I’m white and from Texas. I have no idea what a Pendleton blanket is, but those types of patterns and designs are extremely common here (on clothes, too). I’ve owned a blanket like it before, and I know family members have some rattling around their homes.

    But I think there may be a difference between a bunch of hipsters wearing them to co-opt someone else’s culture and the seeping of one culture into another. My family has been in NE Texas for 150 years and my grandmother is 1/8th Cherokee. A lot of people here with roots that go far back have some Native ancestry. We all identify as white because that’s how we’re raised, but it’s simply not uncommon to find certain Native American themes in decorative goods (clothes, blankets, etc) around here.

    Basically, I have no idea what to tell you. I’m baffled that the patterns are considered something new and unusual by high fashion. They’re perfectly normal to me. They just don’t have the cultural significance (blankets as a gift for special events).

    But I think perhaps what bothers you and a lot of people is that commercialism strips any value from something like this. It ceases to even acknowledge the culture it comes from and instead is just something to wear for people to say, “Look, I can afford the latest stuff!” I wouldn’t worry overmuch. It’ll be gone by next year and then you don’t have to suffer through the hipsters who wear it.

  • http://8mph-ansible.livejournal.com/ 8mph-ansible

    In late but still feelin you have every right to feel offput by it. Even if capitalism and commercialism has again made a move to strip another part of our culture from us, probably much of Pendleton’s bussiness if not its strongest customer base has always been from the Native community.

    Sure they can branch out into other customer bases, even disconerting ones, but we as its likely strongest and longtime supports have a right to voice whatever concerns we have about the company whether we own stock in it or not.

    -Ansi8

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08001124567116052563 lauren

    Extra late, but this is an almost exact parallel of the company Vlisco that sells wax print fabric mainly in West Africa (esp. Nigeria). Of course the textiles are patterned on West African aesthetic preferences, and they even make commemorative prints for important cultural moments. However Vlisco is a Dutch company, and the artists “study” African designs and regurgitate them back to the population at sometimes astronomical prices (and they’ve been doing so since 1846 per their website’s history or “philosophy” page). Vlisco is coveted however. It’s considered the best of the best in wax print fabric.
    Of course questions of appropriation did not begin to surface really until mainstream white fashion designers started using the fabric and calling it “tribal” in the last few years.

    I’d like to argue that Pendleton and Vlisco were appropriating from the very beginning. It wasn’t until these companies starting showing their real motive–profit, that it became a problem. This is not to say that you’re wrong in feeling “some type of way” about all this. I agree with you.

  • http://ashortwave.wordpress.com/ ashortwave

    Great blog, wandered over here from a link to your vintage valentines. I think you make some good points here. I don’t have have the answers necessarily, but I appreciate your thoughts. I love Pendleton designs, and I’m supportive of a more fashion-minded look but at the same time…many of those designs are garish and just in poor taste (especially the Urban Outfitters variety). I wish they wouldn’t lower themselves to cheapening the cultural elements and pandering to fads. But that’s a tall order this day in age…

  • http://psychobombshell.livejournal.com/ psychobombshell

    As an Oregonian, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for the Portland community of hipsters that spawned Gretchen from Project Runway and started this whole “hipsters wearing SW and Western” crap.
    One thing, as cute as some of the Urban Outfitters things are, I personally would never spend my money there. The owner and creator of both UO and anthropologie is a horrible man who throws his money into radical right wing causes that infringe on people’s civil rights. And he is the sole owner, so the money you spend there goes from his pocket to those causes and candidates. He must laugh at all the money he makes off hipsters.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12183924406723129765 Waterswaves

    Some may have seen this, but just in case. This post was featured as a guest post on a “Sociological Images” blog. I’ve been commenting in the comments section as Susan W.

    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/02/18/guest-post-lets-talk-about-pendleton/

    I mentioned in one of my comments there that I can’t afford a Pendleton but I forgot to mention that I have to be careful about touching them anyway. I’m allergic to Wool, lol.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08695691445078442543 Funka

    First of all I am completely and totally against Pendleton collaborating with Urban Outfitters because not only does their CEO donate money and champion causes that are against Pendleton’s humanitarian and humane practices and policies but Urban Outfitters works hard to steal designs and ideas from small time artists.

    They’re a disgusting company and the hip kids that support their business practices are ignorant morons for buying ‘No H8′ (while the CEO pours money into right wing candidates and groups) and kitschy items (stolen from artists) from their stores.

    As someone who appreciates design and textiles it has always been difficult for me when it comes to appropriation trends. On one hand I love them because of the rich history and designs these textiles bring into the public at large but on the other hand I understand that young people rarely (if ever) educate themselves on where these designs originate from.

    I collect wool Pendleton plaid shirts from the 50s-70s because their quality, designs and colors are always suburb. I also collect West African textiles and Mexican (which is my cultural background and deep history…even though I look white as can be.. but that’s another issue) embroidery work on dresses and skirts.

    I have nothing but respect and love for these designs and wear them with pride for the people who created them, I see them as wearable art and expressionism that is lacking in lifeless, poorly made modern clothing.

    Would I wear a Native American design? Not while it is in fashion, no. I have too much respect for Native American culture and peoples, having grown up in the Puget Sound area, then to lump myself in with a bunch of other white buffoons who are appropriating culture (even if Pendleton manufactured and created these designs) without knowing of the history or issues attached to the garments they’re wearing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/erika.czerniejewski Erika Czerniejewski

    I am a white Oregonian with strong ties to the Native community and have always tried to respect Native culture since I was a child and became friends with a wise Mataponi elder. I like much of your blog however, I have to disagree with you to a certain extent. Pendleton has served native and non native communities and fashions for its entire exsistance. Cowboys wore Pendletons. So did loggers. So do the red-necks in Oregon City. Culture in the West grew with the company: it is not just Native wear and blankets but also Western wear and culture-for all races out here.

    All along there have been non-natives wearing Pendletons,and they have been dabbling in fashion on and off for a century. Some of the fashions have been plain wool or plaid, others were clearly Native inspired. I found a 1940′s Pendleton wool dress suit at Goodwill I wanted so freakin’ bad. Very fashionable, and pre-hipsters by some six decades.

    My point is Pendleton will always be both the sacred blankets and clothes. The “Native Prints” have gone in and out of fashion before. It is fashion and it changes. Often. If you don’t like Pendletons being worn by hipsters, then take it back and buy that shit before they can and wear it with pride (assuing you have a spare boatload of cash….or just wait until the style changes and pick that stuff up from the second-hand store. hahaha!!!).

    …and most of us in the West who have blankets, jackets, or other clothes do VALUE our Pendletons. Even with the non-native people out here there’s and odd reverence for the brand and what it stands for. If I had the money I know I would like give to blanket a blanket to my Native friend who is soon to complete his masters. Is that appropriating Native culture for a white person to give a Native friend a Pendleton blanket, or is it a culture understanding between the two? Does my race prevent me from being allowed access to this company and their products?

  • http://www.facebook.com/erika.czerniejewski Erika Czerniejewski

    I am a white Oregonian with strong ties to the Native community and have always tried to respect Native culture since I was a child and became friends with a wise Mataponi elder. I like much of your blog however, I have to disagree with you to a certain extent. Pendleton has served native and non native communities and fashions for its entire exsistance. Cowboys wore Pendletons. So did loggers. So do the red-necks in Oregon City. Culture in the West grew with the company: it is not just Native wear and blankets but also Western wear and culture-for all races out here.

    All along there have been non-natives wearing Pendletons,and they have been dabbling in fashion on and off for a century. Some of the fashions have been plain wool or plaid, others were clearly Native inspired. I found a 1940′s Pendleton wool dress suit at Goodwill I wanted so freakin’ bad. Very fashionable, and pre-hipsters by some six decades.

    My point is Pendleton will always be both the sacred blankets and clothes. The “Native Prints” have gone in and out of fashion before. It is fashion and it changes. Often. If you don’t like Pendletons being worn by hipsters, then take it back and buy that shit before they can and wear it with pride (assuing you have a spare boatload of cash….or just wait until the style changes and pick that stuff up from the second-hand store. hahaha!!!).

    …and most of us in the West who have blankets, jackets, or other clothes do VALUE our Pendletons. Even with the non-native people out here there’s and odd reverence for the brand and what it stands for. If I had the money I know I would like give to blanket a blanket to my Native friend who is soon to complete his masters. Is that appropriating Native culture for a white person to give a Native friend a Pendleton blanket, or is it a culture understanding between the two? Does my race prevent me from being allowed access to this company and their products?

  • Pah-tu Pitt

    Is it okay just to listen to Material Girl In a Material world As an answer?

  • Pah-tu Pitt

    Is it okay just to listen to Material Girl In a Material world As an answer?

  • Anonymous

    Do any of you know the culture of Pendleton? The city! Even the lady from Oregon, have you ever been past The Dalles? Most of the population of Oregon is on the west side of the state and including them, most people know nothing of the culture of Eastern Oregon. While they are native prints and designs, they are in a community that has a tribe. Natives do not only give gifts to each other but whites too. You should be proud of your culture and enjoy that people love the art of it, the blanket making and colors/design. Are we not suppose to promote supporting each other, regardless of their race, nationality, gender, sexual preference? I think that capitalizing on peoples values, traditions, culture is how our society is going down the toilet but so is being selfish in thinking that if you’re white you are only wearing it cause its trendy and must’ve been bought at UO. There are many more reasons why people, especially in Eastern Oregon, have such items.