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Oshun – the story of my clothing brand, and the yellow dress inspired by Beyonce’s in Lemonade

Oshun

I still have the notebook in which I brain-stormed possible names for my clothing business sixteen years ago! I was particularly interested in goddesses at that time and wrote several down, but the name Oshun resonated. When I found out more about her, she seemed perfect to name my brand after. She is a water goddess of love; a deity of the Yoruba people of West Africa and is associated with femininity, sensuality and the power of women. She has come into the news lately because there are rumours that Beyonce wore a dress in Lemonade which specifically represented her….

Beyonce in Lemonade

Beyonce in Lemonade

There has been no official confirmation yet, that Beyonce was channeling Oshun in her Lemonade video, but when you look at the iconology, it seems perfectly clear to me. Kamaria Roberts and Kenya Downs analyse the whole thing in detail in this article. Beyonce is obviously referring to her African heritage throughout, and the Oshun comparison goes further than wearing a goddess-style yellow dress. The rush of water; being wronged and hurt; having a destructive temper (smashing windows with a baseball bat!) all relate to stories and legends about Oshun.

She’s a healer and brings fertility and prosperity. She is especially worshipped in river towns as she’s a goddess of fresh water and the river of the same name. Her colour is yellow or ochre and her metals are gold or bronze. Her sacred animals are peacocks and vultures. I find ancient religions so fascinating and I’ve really enjoyed reading up about Oshun again.

I have been meaning to make a dress entitled ‘The Oshun Dress‘ for a while now, but I was so inspired when I saw this one by Roberto Cavalli, I thought now was the right time! If you aren’t familiar with Oshun clothing, I’ll tell you a little about it now: I sew clothes using reclaimed luxury fabrics. Every item is one-of-a-kind and created without patterns, by draping the fabrics on the mannequin and stitching them together like patchwork. I make a variety of alternative designs from steampunk to tribal fusion to post apocalyptic, but as we come into summer, it is the festival style bohemian clothing that proves the most popular.

Oshun dress inspired by Beyonce in Lemonade

Oshun dress inspired by Beyonce in Lemonade

Sometimes I start from scratch with small pieces of material, and sometimes, if there is a particularly pretty detail in the original garment, I will keep that section intact. For this mustard yellow Oshun dress, I began with an Indian chiffon kameez, that had such lovely beading at the neckline, I had to keep it. I used two pairs of salwar (Indian trousers) to cut up and use in the skirt part of the dress, along with some leftover pieces of silk I had, and a scarf, which was also used to form the off-the-shoulder frills. It is very satisfying to re-use fabric that may otherwise have gone to waste, and make something from it that I hope other people will think is beautiful. I think my Oshun dress would be perfect for a unique wedding dress, perhaps for a beach wedding; or to feel special at a fancy event.

Beyonce in Lemonade-inspired Oshun goddess dress

Beyonce in Lemonade-inspired Oshun goddess dress

It is my daughter, Rain wearing the Oshun dress in these pictures and she said she felt really confident in it. I’m biased, but I think that confidence shone through and it was some of the best modelling she’s done for me. I think she looks stunning! I hope whoever owns the Oshun dress will feel that same powerful feeling when they wear it.

I’d like all the owners of Oshun clothing to feel like a goddess in whatever item they’ve bought. I sell the clothes I make (and a few vintage pieces) through four different shops on Etsy: Oshun Creations, Oshun Occasions, Oshun Costumes and Oshun Kids. If you’d like to know more about my Oshun clothing brand, please take a look at the Oshun Website.

Oshun yellow maxi dress

Oshun yellow maxi dress

Do you have a dress or outfit that makes you feel ready to take on the world? I’d love to see pictures if you don’t mind sharing 🙂

 

Fashion, Lifestyle, Threads of a Fairytale - my handmade clothing label,
0033 comments

writer

Writer, pyrographer, renovator, crafter, photographer and maker of bohemian clothing and costumes.

33 Comments

Lilith Dorsey

Alafia, I was wondering what training you had in the tradition ?

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Helen

Hello! I have no training at all. I’m simply interested in spiritual history, including goddesses, so have done some reading on the subjects 🙂

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Vanessa Mártir

Read between the lines. This person is calling you out.

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Helen

Yes I did get that, but thank you for pointing it out just in case.

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Vanessa Mártir

This is the epitome of appropriation and it is problematic on multiple levels. You really need to look into why you think this is okay. Oshun is a Orisha from the Yoruba tradition. She is sacred and important to a belief system that you do not belong to and do not have access to beyond the limited research you’ve done. The sad part is that you will likely try to defend your appropriation and not see how disrespectful this is to a marginalized community that has been oppressed and enslaved. This is not yours. And this goes far beyond a choice of style or dress. You need to check yourself.

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Alicia Anabel Santos

What folks do not get is that we are talking about stealing from groups of people–from cultures and communities and our belief systems. Why can’t they see it? When will folks stop taking from us?

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Helen

I don’t see it as stealing or taking. I explain why here: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/

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Helen

Yes you’re right, I have tried to defend myself. My full answer is here: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/

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Aaminah Shakur

Oshun is not here for cutesy “bohemian” (also an offensive term) fun by white women. Shun is sacred. Oshun is unapologetically Black. Oshun comes from a specific tradition that does not belong to white people. Oshun is not a brand or marketing scheme for white women. Black women and femmes who channel or reference Oshun and other Orishas continue to be marginalized even today for returning to the spirituality of our ancestors and for stepping outside of Christian norms in a way that white women who step outside of Christianity are not ever marginalized. I’m pretty sure that South Asians must have some feelings about a white woman using their shalwar and kammez sets this way too, to be honest, as that tradition is also marginalized and often those items are handmade and the beadwork may be significant. Beyoncé’s Lemonade also wasn’t for white women, and it’s not surprising that all white women get out of it is what you distill down to some fashion tips. This is far outside your lane and profoundly disrespectful and harmful to Black women. All together, this is several layers of “Cultural Appropriation 101” harmful. You say you put so much thought and research into these choices, including taking the time to learn and be able to name the traditions this derives from, but in all that effort, it didn’t occur to you that this isn’t yours for the taking. This is culture theft so you can make some money, and you didn’t learn what you did without KNOWING that this would be the reaction. You are a thief and a vulture.

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Helen

I’ve given my point of view to most of your concerns in this blog post: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/
But to answer one of your points here; no-one should be marginalised for their faith and it’s awful that people still are. I don’t agree that this is unique to people of the Yoruba religion – white women who are muslims or pagans come to mind here.

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Calista

Just change the name of your brand. Rebrand. Learn about your own culture. Be inspired by something else.

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Helen

I’ve replied in full to your comment here: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/

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Ogundokun

As the missionaries say, “please read.”
http://santeriachurch.org/category/safe-alerts/

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Icess Fernandez

As a devoted daughter of Oshun, I am offended that you have disrespected my mother in this way. Google searches do not make you qualified to take this away from her sons and daughters and those who are in the Yoruba religion. She is sacred to us and this is blasphemy. It is as if you are spitting on the holiest of deities and as her daughter, I cannot let this stand. Your offense is several levels beyond cultural appropriation (and it also is that) but it is the highest offense to can give an entire people, religion, and ancestry.

Pick another name for your brand and your dress. Stop offending my Mother!

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Helen

I am sorry that I have offended you. Please read this blog post for my full reply to your comment: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/

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Ogundokun

From an article from the website that I posted a link to.

Cultural Appropriation – “I’ll Take That!”
Before we can really discuss the examples of cultural appropriation we’ve witnessed online we first need to explore what cultural appropriation really is. Susan Scafidi, author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, when asked to give a succinct definition of cultural appropriation, described it as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” and further explained “This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”
In our article we are mainly concerned with the religious symbols and sacred objects. One of the things to keep in mind is that there are two elements to appropriation: lack of permission and symbols being taken from someone else’s culture. In the orisha traditions, permission is granted through initiation, and culture is transmitted and preserved through participation in the tradition, or through cultural immersion in the religion and its practices.
In the examples we cite you’ll see the names of Yoruban/Lucumí orishas being used, symbolism from their shrines, colors, numbers, even magical practices from other areas of Africa all being dumped together to make things “even more African” in an effort to create an illusion of legitimacy (though the people who bear the cultural origins of these different images, symbols and spirits were often warring enemies and never intermingled their religious practices).

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Ogundokun

From the article I posted a link to.

Why is Cultural Appropriation So Harmful?

Cultural Appropriation is harmful for several reasons. First, it harms people because it is a colonialist objectification of ancient traditions. A minority people who have suffered the scourge of colonialism have a damaged sense of ancestry, have had their lands and power stripped away from them and have often been ripped away from their traditional religious practices. Their traditions are the last thing they can truly own when their land is gone, their families destroyed and their power stripped away. When a dominant culture comes along and objectifies indigenous practices so that they become a costume, a fad, a decorating motif or the flavor of the month, the culture of the oppressed minority is ridiculed and seen as a simple object that can be shuffled about, traded or purchased for money. It is the final blow to a minority oppressed people’s soul.
Secondly, these religious traditions were preserved for centuries by disciplined adherents to the faith, through hurdles to participation like intensive study and initiatory requirements, as well as keeping inner secrets guarded by the priesthood. Many ancestors died to preserve these traditions even in the face of slavery and persecution. For an outsider to come along and start wearing the false vestments of religious authority because they think an orisha is “pretty” or because “they love her” is insulting to the ancestors and reduces the ancient religious secret practices of that people to a mockery.
Third, cultural appropriation can lead to people of the dominant culture assuming they have privilege and the right to practice minority indigenous religious practices in which they have not been trained or duly initiated. This can result in them tampering with energies, deities, spiritualities, entities, spirits and forces they are not ready to deal with. Simply put, when a person dresses a fierce indigenous spirit in a warm-fuzzy, culturally objectified, “rounded-corners for your protection” colonialist attitude, she’ll find herself tampering with a force that will unbalance her life in no time.
Often those in the majority mindset will apply their cultural values to the situation to justify their attitude. Sayings like “The gods are love and they understand I am coming from the right place”, “She chose me to worship her” or “If we didn’t worship these Gods they’d probably disappear” are a perfect example of a privileged approach to indigenous culture and are hallmarks of cultural appropriation. (If you truly appreciated that orisha or those traditions you’d go to a culture bearer who worships in the manner that preserved that spirit’s practice and learn they way the orisha likes to be worshipped instead of assuming your way is right.)

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Helen

Thank you for taking the time to comment with a reasonable and rational point of view. It gave me plenty to think about and I have replied here: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/

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Gabby

My mama always told me if I didn’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say nothing at all😑😑😑😑😑 but I never listened to her ass

This is disrespectful as fuck on so many levels

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Osunyoyin Ifarike

As a 27 year priestess of Osun initiated to Osun in her main seat in Nigeria, I too find this highly offensive. You have NO IDEA WHO OSUN REALLY IS. First and foremost she is Mother. YEYE..twice mother. All of your babble neglected the most essential and important part of her nature. The other question becomes why would you turn your back on your own ancestral tradition to usurp some one elses? You have your own goddesses, Celtic, Druid, Nordic, Greek, Roman. Pick one of those and stay away from ours.

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Helen

This blog post was meant to give a brief overview as to who Oshun is for those who hadn’t heard of her before. I’m sorry if you consider that babble.
You may be interested in this blog post which replies to all the comments here: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/

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Alicia Anabel Santos

There seems to be some confusion amongst groups of people who believe that it is their right to be inspired by things in our society and run with it. Wearing jewelry on their foreheads in music videos, rocking sombreros on May 5th (a fake holiday) and wearing feathers on their heads. The confusion is believing we are entitled to everything and anything. This is what privilege looks like. I want to be clear. I’m not hear to attack you. I’m here to express to you why I’m offended, Ochun is more than a goddess, she is someone very important to us in the religion. The truth is this is about money. You are using Ochun to make money. And the truth is the real problem here is that you are white. If you had been a black designer the community wouldn’t be in such an uproar because we would embrace it as someone honoring their religion, acenstry and roots. Operative word here is “theirs” it is ours. And so I hope you understand how problematic it is to appropriate “our” culture, one that isn’t your own. This is about groups of people who love Ochun and all of our deities. And so I hope you understand why this is a problem. We are not a trend. We are not what’s hot. No we do not want to be exploited.

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Helen

Thank you for your interesting comment, I’ve replied to it in full here: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/

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Ana Betancourt

Our sacred cultural deities are not commodities for you to exploit. This is not okay! It is reprehensible. Check your privilege. The British already exploited India and Africa. Back off! Appropriate one of your own deities and change your name.

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Helen

I’ve replied in full to your comment here: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/

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Yinka

This is so inappropriate. I’m Yoruba and I find this so offensive. You can’t just take the spirituality of an oppressed people and use it to sell things. There’s a term for people like you…Beckeisha. Look it up. http://www.theroot.com/the-five-types-of-becky-1798543210

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Helen

I’ve replied in full to your comment here: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/

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Tamara G Saliva

This is far beyond disrespectful. You have no idea what our ancestors went through to make sure these traditions still exist today. The countless who were sacrificed to continue the practices of our faith. This is not ok. This is not yours.

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Helen

You might be interested in my response to these comments in this blog post: https://whenigrowupblog.com/2017/09/07/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-should-it-really-matter/
I did have a paragraph about slavery and how the Yoruba religion spread because of it; but I took that paragraph out again because in the end I couldn’t see the relevance to my Oshun dress. If you’d like me to reply again here with that paragraph I will.

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Vanessa Mártir

You continue to rationalize and defend which shows that you really don’t care to get how very problematic your behavior is. Oshun is not part of your belief system. She is sacred to an oppressed people and your actions continue to oppress and trivialize. That’s it. Period. End of story.

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Vanessa Mártir

You removed a paragraph on slavery because you didn’t see it as relevant? Wow. Do you realize how ignorant and dismissive that sounds? You don’t have to answer that.

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Helen

Well I will answer that because you forgot to add my next four important words: to my Oshun dress.
Here is the paragraph anyway:
Do I need to talk about slavery? Another difficult subject, but it was mentioned in the comments, so I’ll touch upon it. I understand that the Yoruba religion is hundreds or even thousands of years older than when slavery from Americans and Europeans happened. I also understand that the religion spread around the world due to this. What happened was horrendous and utterly reprehensible and I respect why descendants of those people are still angry about it. I accept that as a white person I will never conceive what that must feel like to know what atrocities your ancestors went through. I just wanted to say that. This paragraph has been added when I re-read the comments as the subject should never be ignored or forgotten.
It was only mentioned in one comment, so I decided not to put it in because I wasn’t sure that it was a subject that most people who commented thought was relevent in this instance.

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