A Marketplace of Appreciation

Hands holding a red heart

Artists are constantly being inspired by the world around them, and use that inspiration and their unique voices to create incredible designs for the Spoonflower Marketplace. To help our artist community create thoughtful work that is respectful to all, Spoonflower’s Head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Sustainability (DEIS) Dave Laboy is here to share the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, along with actionable suggestions on how artists can be responsible global citizens while designing.

What is the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation?

In our global economy, learning to understand a culture that is different from our own is essential in becoming a responsible global citizen. It is important, however, to understand there is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. Cultural exchange and appreciation is generally positive.

Cultural Appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally.

Cultural Appropriation, on the other hand, is simply taking an aspect of a culture that is not one’s own and using it for personal interest or benefit.

The difference between appreciation and appropriation can get a little complicated. Here are a few examples of what appropriation can look like.

  • Purchasing an item that may have important cultural significance to a particular culture and simply using it as a fashion statement, without seeking to understand its significance 
  • Taking a video of a cultural ceremony or ritual and doing a social media post just for others to like or share
  • Making or purchasing items that are an expression of a cultural group for the purpose of personal profit   

Other indicators of appropriation include presenting elements of a culture in ways that:

  • Give a skewed or inaccurate perspective of that culture
  • Reinforce stereotypes
  • Conflict with the intended use of those elements
  • Take credit or compensation from the original creators

In short, if your use of cultural items or practices exploit a culture in any way, you’re appropriating – whether you realize it or not. It’s important to understand the significance of any cultures’ celebrations, milestones or memorialized practices to avoid offending those inside and outside that culture.

So, what do cultural appreciation and appropriation mean to us as a creative community? 

At Spoonflower, we fully embrace the concepts of diversity, equality and inclusion. These core principles fuel our creative economy, and enable our ability to innovate and support our creative community of artists, designers, and makers whose diversity makes our Marketplace a rich and vibrant space for self-expression. While most of us mean well and want to share our creative output in constructive ways, intent is hard to assess at face value, and it doesn’t always have the desired impact.

Painting watercolor flowers

Below are a few suggestions you can consider to become a responsible global citizen in our Marketplace and show appreciation for a different culture without appropriating it.

1. Engage in Self-reflection

By examining your own culture you will be better able to understand differences and determine what is important in cultures across the world. If you realize that a specific aspect of your own cultural background is central to your identity, and it would offend you if someone were to take part in it without understanding what it means, consider that people all over the world, in cultures other than your own, may feel exactly the same way.

Reflect: Would I be offended if someone wore an important symbol or item from my culture without understanding what it truly means? What is my role in educating others about my culture?

2. Be Open-minded

One of the best ways to understand and appreciate another culture is by listening to those who are a part of it. Listen to their stories, understand the implications behind the aspects of their culture you’re interested in and use that information to broaden your worldview.

Reflect: When buying arts or crafts from a different culture, do you engage the artist who created the piece to learn more about their background, the meaning of their work and how it fits into their culture? If not, you may be appropriating instead of appreciating.

3. Embrace Differences

Understanding the various aspects of a culture and what they mean is important. If you have a genuine interest in a person’s life, they will be happy to share with you the things that matter to them. That exchange will help you develop cultural competence and appreciate the culture.

Reflect: Did I just take a piece of someone’s culture to use for my own benefit, without knowing the significance behind it? Do I have knowledge about the origin of the custom, item or symbol? 

4. Learn and Share

Through appreciation and exchange you are able to share something about yourself, learn something about someone else and share a mutual understanding of one another’s background and culture.

Reflect: If I’m interested in sharing a piece of my own language, food, customs and traditions, chances are others are just as excited to share theirs, too. What a great way to engage in cross-cultural exchange and appreciation! 

One of the ways we at Spoonflower can support a Marketplace of appreciation is by making sure our Terms and Conditions of Service clearly set our expectations for the creative community we proudly support. A refresh is underway so stay tuned!   

We are one community brought together by our love for art, design and free expression, among other things. These tips can help us maintain an inclusive Marketplace where diverse creative expression is celebrated, and where respect is shown by doing our part to understand our differences while engaging them constructively.

Want to learn more about cultural appreciation?
Read the perspectives of community members Destiny Seymour and Emi Ito

Dave Laboy headshot

Meet Dave Laboy

As Head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Sustainability (DEIS) at Spoonflower, Dave champions a diverse workplace and inclusive environment through thought leadership, insights and perspectives. He provides strategic and operational leadership on policies, programs and practices across a global organization. Dave has 21 years of combined experience in Operations, Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Communications, Human Resources and Diversity.

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A Marketplace of Appreciation