Cultural Appropriation in the Scrapbook Industry

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series The Scrapworthy Lives Guide to Market Research

Every other Wednesday, I write a business post for the scrapbook industry based on The Scrapworthy Lives Guide to Market Research This week you get a bonus early market research because CHA is happening right now and retailers are making decisions about what lines to bring to their stores.

I am normally a big fan of BasicGrey. And I do like some of their new line. I am not, however, a fan of their CHA-debut of Konnichiwa.

Konnichiwa reduces Japanese people and Japanese culture to cute imagery that can be used as decor on your scrapbook page and other paper crafts.

Here is a sampling of the product line:







The Konnichiwa line would be much more acceptable if the images of people were removed, though still problematic. Cultural appropriation is difficult to do in a non-offensive way and BasicGrey has failed. It is crucial to do your homework on your images to make sure you reduce the likelihood of inadvertently creating offensive products. Anytime you start incorporating imagery from cultures that are not your own, you must do your homework.

I have not done this topic justice and I realize this. I encourage you to browse some of the articles I’ve linked up to below to begin thinking more about the topic of cultural appropriation.

More Reading on Cultural Appropriation

My Culture is Not a Trend
Racist Halloween Costumes
Asian-Inspired is not the same as Geisha-Inspired
Racism is not Crafty
Beware Racist Images for Graphic Designers
Gwen Stefani and Harajuku Girls

What do you think? How have you seen cultural appropriation the scrapbook industry? Was it done well or was it just offensive? Comment below.

If you liked this post, check out my new e-book, The Scrapworthy Lives Guide to Market Research.

Stephanie

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  • Katie Scott

    I never really thought about that, I just thought it looked cute.  How do you feel about the Gwen Stephani perfume bottles shaped like people?  And are Japanese people offended or do they dig the harashuku girl theme (which does depict people)?  I guess it is offensive if Asians are offended – I know nothing about this subject – but I’m wondering – are they?  (I’m guessing the answer must be yes).    Good food for thought – thanks.

  • Danielle

    This is the first time I’ve seen the Konnichiwa line and at first glance, it is cute and I like the colors, but I can see how it can be offensive.  Thanks for bringing it up. I’ve never thought about scrapbooking supplies to be questionable like this and you’ve got me thinking :)

  • http://www.scrapworthylives.com Stephanie Medley-Rath

    I have not seen the perfume bottles. (Just googled them.) I’m not sure. It appears they are supposed to based on her and her Harajuku girls (so real people and that makes a difference). That being said, she seems to treat the Harajuku girls as some sort of accessory. That whole thing just seems bizarre to me. I love, love, love, No Doubt but really haven’t paid much attention to her or her music since she went out on her own. 

    Thanks for commenting. I think the overall line is cute. I like the colors. I like the concept. I just don’t like the execution. Using people is fine, but it needs to be done very carefully. I’m planning another post on the topic and need to think about this more, too.

  • http://www.scrapworthylives.com Stephanie Medley-Rath

    Thanks! This is what happens when you’ve been observing the industry and hobby as a sociologist for something like 7 years. LOL Through the years I’ve seen all sorts of stickers and embellishments of questionable nature. I think a lot of companies attempt to reach across cultures but have no real idea how to do that without coming off as offensive or ignorant. People in the industry think they need to make products to reach a mass audience so instead of just making stickers depicting Asian people (presumably for Asian scrapbookers, like I can find stickers of White people), we get a stereotypical portrayal of a Japanese woman that is so outside what the typical Japanese woman looks like or how she dresses instead. The stereotyped images might be seen as having greater market potential, but niche markets can be profitable, too. I need to think more about this and do a follow-up post.

  • Dorothy_chao

    Thanks so much for your insightful comments.  As a Chinese-American scrapbooker, I like finding scrapbook paper and supplies that have an Asian theme such as cherry blossoms or fans or dragons or Chinese characters (although you’d be surprised how often Chinese characters are printed upside down!).  But I share Stephanie’s distaste for the stereotyped Japanese “doll” figures in “Konnichiwa.”

    On another note, I have yet to see stickers depicting realistic Asian figures, the way you can see Caucasian figures all over the place.  For that matter, I don’t recall seeing black or hispanic figures either.  This reminds me of the difficulty I had finding an Asian Barbie doll 20 years ago for my daughter – that’s a whole another story.

  • http://twitter.com/HacerScrapbooks Zaira@HacerScrapbook

    I’m very pleased of reading the opinion of someone close to the represented culture. (as a Chinese-American, you probably understand better the Asian perspective than a Latina, LOL!)

    I sort of don’t know what to say over this. If I take it from my Latina perspective, mu problem with most products is that companies want to encompass the culture of the 20 countries under the icons of either México or the Latino Caribbean (that is actually composed of three different countries). It is puzzling to me why all the Latino community has to be represented by Día de los Muertos, or palm trees and beaches. (And let me tell you, even when I had that infamous Puerto Rican Barbie, my brother and I laughed at its looks so hard that we shed a few tears…)

  • http://www.scrapworthylives.com Stephanie Medley-Rath

    Thanks for the comment. I don’t think I have ever scene stickers, embellishments, or anything from a scrapbook manufacturer like you suggest. I recall seeing stickers of African American children at CHA when I went (in like 2005?). Other than that, that has been it. I wish I knew Japanese so that I could actually check and make sure the symbols actually communicate what they are supposedly communicating. I think if there were actual products depicting Asians in a realistic manner, this would be a different story, too. Thanks again for commenting.

  • http://www.scrapworthylives.com Stephanie Medley-Rath

    Thanks for the comments. I was just thinking of a similar imagined “Latino-themed” lined that included a boy or girl wearing a sombrero (I suppose along the lines of Speedy Gonzalez only with a human instead of a mouse). You are so right about overgeneralizing. I think this industry has a real hard time not relying on stereotypes to create product. I just don’t understand it.  

  • http://ecoscrapbook.blogspot.com/ Danielle

     Been browsing company blogs lately and found Bo Bunny’s Serenity collection and immediately thought of your post. There’s kanji, lanterns and a take-out box, but no figures like the one above. I’m interested to hear your take on this collection as it will fit in well with the follow-up post.

  • http://www.scrapworthylives.com Stephanie Medley-Rath

    I did see that one. I did like it a lot better because it did not include people. I still am a bit unsure about the rest of the lines. I think they still rely on stereotypes. I don’t think the companies/designers are doing much research to create “Asian-themed” lines. 

  • Julieaj

    I’ve read a few of these links and I kind of think it’s a no win situation.  My daughter’s school and Brownies use craft, food and costume to teach the children about diversity and equality.  There’s criticism if all images are western, but if a designer draws inspiration from other cultures they seem to be criticised for that too.

  • http://www.scrapworthylives.com Stephanie Medley-Rath

    Thanks for commenting. I think there is a balance that can be struck. Making product that is culturally sensitive would be a start and allow designers to also make product that is more stereotypical. Let’s face it, scrapbookers like the stereotypical stuff too because it often fits in with our life. :) That’s not a bad thing. What’s bad is when it is the only option. When I google on various scrapbooking sites for Asian items, the only images of people that come up are the stereotypical images of people in kimonos. I’ve never seen an Asian American* wearing a kimono on the street, but have only seen Asian Americans wearing American-style clothes like everyone else. That option, however, is not available in the industry. The manufacturers are not making these particular stereotypical items for Japanese people who wear kimonos. They are being made for the  White scrapbooker who uses it because it’s “cute.” That’s a problem. 
    *I’m based in America, so that’s my focus on this response.

  • Mrstamtam

    Thank you for the insight and awareness you’ve brought in your articles!

  • Canuck Grandma

    When stamp makers, for example, depict white older women as hugely busted, which I am, drinking coffee, which I do, buying ice cream cones, which I like, or lots of expensive shoes which I ‘wish’, I don’t get offended – I enjoy a good laugh. I find that depiction is, while not representative of the whole culture of Caucasians, is refreshing, and I don’t take it as a personal affront. I wouldn’t necessarily want to add the embellishment of a photo of myself to cards or scrapbook pages all the time.The little figure of a cute Asian girl, in traditional kimono also is not meant to be the totality of Asian culture that our children are introduced to. Many people enjoy ‘Hello, Kitty’- does that mean we think all cats are represented by it. Of course not. There is a time and place for learning about cultures and paper accessories are not it. Canadians are depicted with hockey sticks, Red Ceremonial Mounties Uniforms, and with maple leaves, etc. Are all Canadians hockey players, or even fans ?- I’m a Canadian but not into sports, or hockey but a cute little drawing of a hockey player wouldn’t offend me or a child, even. Maybe it would open up discussions of stereotypes.

  • http://www.scrapworthylives.com Stephanie Medley-Rath

    Thanks for commenting. Part of the issue is that this is the only exposure many people have to different cultures. I think there are better ways to incorporate diverese cultures into a scrapbook beyond relying on stereotypes. If there were a diversity of opportunities to do so, then stereotypical portayals would be less problematic, but there are not.

  • J. Franklin

    As an African American I hate that we are not represented.

  • http://www.scrapworthylives.com Stephanie Medley-Rath

    Thanks for commenting. Sadly, this post was written over a year ago and there have been new examples from the last to CHA shows with similar stereotypical themes. Frustrating.