How to Fix Fashion’s Cultural Appropriation Problem (2023)

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” The question of who actually coined this phrase is up for debate — some argue it might have been T.S. Eliot, where others name Picasso or author W.H. Davenport Adams.

That quandary has also permeated the fashion industry on a multitude of levels — the maxim is finding strong pushback as it applies to fashion brands and designers. Increasingly infiltrated by amateur, consumer watchdogs empowered by social media, fashion companies are operating in a cultural backdrop of watershed movements, necessitating hyper-vigilance to avoid taboo topics and, more importantly, insulting a community.

Brand consultants and scholars note there’s no single formula or tactic that can be deployed to “fix” this issue. Cultural appropriation is a complicated topic, and observers said the best solution requires a complete change in the culture methods of a brand or company itself. But a good first step would be to start bolstering a company or brand’s awareness across the board on cultural competency — and that means being sensitive to cultural, ethnic and racial differences.

In a creative field that distills and celebrates styles from various cultures, brands and retailers are charged with installing protocols and infrastructure like diversity boards and chief diversity officers to address accusations of negative cultural appropriation — and avoid a p.r. nightmare that might result in the loss of high-profile partners, margins and profits.

“There is a fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation.To try to maintain artificial lines between groups or protect one group’srights over another to addressor celebrate images and ideas of gender, race, ethnicityand the like is a losing battle in a day and age wherein these divisions matterless and less. The linesthemselves are dissolving completely,” said Shireen Jiwan, founder and chief investigator of Sleuth Brand Consulting, a brand management firm that specializes in the intersection of fashion and technology.

How to Fix Fashion’s Cultural Appropriation Problem (1)

That’s easier said than done — mega-brands such as , Urban Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret and most recently, Gucci, have been embroiled in cultural appropriation controversies. In the case of , it resulted in the loss of a high-profile partnership with The Weeknd.

(Video) THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! Cultural Appropriation, DO NOT Do This! 🏰 Royale High

H&M showed on its e-commerce site an African-American boy wearing a sweatshirt sporting the phrase: “Cutest monkey in the jungle.” The Weeknd responded, “Woke up this morning shocked and embarrassed by this photo. I’m deeply offended and will not be working with @hm anymore,” in a tweet that reached his 8.45 million Twitter followers.

“We sincerely apologize for offending people with this image of a printed hooded top. The image has been removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States,” H&M responded. “We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do and will be reviewing all our internal policies accordingly to avoid any future issues.…We will now be doing everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening again in future. Racism and bias in any shape or form, conscious or unconscious,deliberate or accidental,are simply unacceptable and need to be eradicated from society.”

H&M also appointed Annie Wu as global leader for diversity and inclusiveness following the event.

Gucci’s fall collection sparked controversy with its display of turbans resembling those worn within the Sikh community – worn by white models, no less. The Sikh Coalition tweeted, “The Sikh is a sacred article of faith, @gucci, not a mere fashion accessory. #appropriation We are available for further education and consultation if you are looking for observant Sikh models.”

Gucci had “no comment” regarding the accusations. However, the show notes for the fall 2018 collection addressed the concept of identity, citing D.J. Haraway’s 1984 essay, “Cyborg Manifesto,” which theorizes that individuals can overcome the paradox of personal and socially assigned identity, according to the notes. “Gucci Cyborg is post-human,” the show notes said. “It’s a biologically indefinite and culturally aware creature. The last and extreme sign of a mongrel identity under constant transformation.”

“The challenge of the disciplinary power is to impose a precise identity on the subject. This operation is carried out placing the subject inside binary fixed categories, as the normal/abnormal one, with the specific intent of classifying, controlling and regulating the subject,” the show notes said. “Identity, though, is neither a natural matter nor a preset category, which can be imposed with violence. It’s not an immutable and fixed fact, rather a social and cultural construction and, as such, it’s a matter of choice, joining, invention.”

The topic of self-identification — especially gender — and corresponding policies has long been debated. And with the debate over human rights, political turmoil, and the permeating role of social media, these incidents are open to public scrutiny, requiring that each message, piece and purchase be heavily researched and weighed.

“When I think of access, I think of what social media has made possible. All the debacles that unfold on Instagram with accounts like diet_prada give access for Millennials and Gen Z to be at the doorstep of these designers, businesses and brands, meaning they’re now actually able to contact them directly,” said Kimberly Jenkins, lecturer at the Parsons School of Design and visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute.Jenkins is teaching fashion history and theory.

(Video) Cultural Appropriation of and by Design

“Because of the communications revolution, people can see and comment on things faster, so they call out things that are bad and more people see that,” echoed Valerie Steele, director and chief curator at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Jiwan agreed: “As customers, we vote with our dollars,contentedly scooping up ideology and conviction with every pair of yoga tights,pack of gum or new car. Brandsinvest in long-term consumer relationships bywalking the walk.”

How to Fix Fashion’s Cultural Appropriation Problem (2)

Social media has served as the primary venue for consumers not only to discover new brands and product, but also to unload their frustrations. “Socially consciousconsumerswho use their voices and purchasingpowerto end questionable business practices are powerful. Particularly through social media, consumers can influence business attitudes and force companies to act more responsibly,” said Sara Ziff, founding director of the Model Alliance.

But consumers aren’t entirely blameless. Though perhaps not as relevant as flower crowns or dad hats, one only need to look at street-style photographs of music festivals like Coachella or Bonnaroo to see cultural appropriation to the extreme — Native American-inspired moccasins and headdresses, for example, are still worn in abundance. The brands might produce potentially offensive products, but shoppers are buying the pieces — regardless of what they might voice on social media.

They very well might be taking a page out of some of the largest magazines. Publications like Vogue have come under fire with photo shoots like those that depicted Karlie Kloss as a geisha in its “diversity” March 2017 issue. Kloss tweeted an apology in light of the allegations.

How to Fix Fashion’s Cultural Appropriation Problem (4)

(Video) Racism and Fashion Supply Chains

The speed of fashion also plays a role. “The fact that people tend to be producing more fashion faster makes it, perhaps, more likely that people are going to be not thinking very clearly about what they’re doing if they’re scrambling to finish the collection,” Steele explained.

And while the industry has worked to create a more diverse work environment, critics stressed that much more can be done — especially in regard tospotting offensive products and designs before they are released into the market. True diversity starts at the top with positions of power and influence.

“Until we have people of color also in these positions of power like as an editor in chief, or chief buyer, real heads of company in these organizations, it’s going to be difficult to see the change that we want to see,” Jenkins echoed. In the meantime, retailers and brands will likely continue to make missteps.

But within most companies, there are those who have been receptive and agile in responding when mistakes do occur.

“After years of criticism over what critics said was thedepiction of only Caucasian women in its advertising, Pantene created a mandateto bring diversity to its productinnovation, communications and internalpractices,” said Jiwan. “Pantene invested in new product development, internal culture andmore before ultimately releasing its#StrongIsBeautiful campaign featuringAfrican-American women wearing traditionally African-American hairstyles in a respectful,celebratory, authentic way. The brandwas applauded for creating real,meaningful change versus just appropriating for profit.”

(Video) Guerlain's History of Cultural Appropriation (and Other Problems)

To Jenkins, investing in a diverse c-suite is the result of successful education. Timid professors who step around the exploration of formerly untapped cultures and historical references are part of the problem — graduates are unversed in hot-button backgrounds and topics.

“What if fashion students don’t have knowledge on the cultural or religious significance of why a sweatshirt saying ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’ worn by a boy in a black body is offensive in many countries of the world?” Jenkins said. “These things slide right through and get the green light and then [retailers or brands] end up in a debacle of having to get a diversity officer because there’s just not enough diversity and knowledge on the team.”

Jiwan suggested that fashion companies “start with ensuring that the changes reflect anend-to-end shift in company behavior. If the changes manifest in advertising, but the company’s hiring or productionpractices still offend, you’re not readyto say anything to [consumers].”

This dovetails with the issue of students of color encountering challenges getting hired fresh out of university. The more trouble getting in the door, the less diverse future executives will be, perpetuating negative cultural appropriation.

“We’re lacking education. Once these students come out [of design school], there’s a crucial transition that’s a bridge from school or training to industry. Many students of color are marginalized or racialized,” Jenkins said. “It becomes precarious because many of them don’t have the right connection, or someone willing to take a chance on them. It’s this critical passage where some of the classmates are white or just have privilege because I know white students have that privilege.”

Curbing that privilege and fostering talent of all backgrounds is key to ensuring future c-suites and boards are diverse and progressive.

But that’s for future change. In order to address mistakes, transparent communication and apologies go a long way — but don’t anticipate a full recovery. “Immediacy, clarity and transparency are key. It’s ahigh-pace, low-peace life we’re all living and today’s news can feel likeancient history by tomorrow. While it mightbe tempting for an offendingbrand to lie low and let a sensitive issue blow over, they’re unlikely to getaway with it,” Jiwan said.

“Social media puts brandbehavior on full display, amplified for all the world to see and judge in real time.Like people, even the best-meaning brandis liable tomake a wrong turn at some point and when it does, it’s criticalthat it responds immediately — especially if it’s hurt or offended its community,” she continued.

With the accelerated oscillation of fashion trends, production demands and ongoing brand loyalty that’s fleeting, brands and designers are now under a growing social spotlight. This requires c-level reinforcement to promote a diverse set of emerging talent, stern examination of current products, and vocal transparency when — and if — mistakes occur.

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FAQs

How can you correct cultural appropriation? ›

To create more engaging, culturally relevant content while avoiding appropriation, Blackburn suggests these tips.
  1. Commit to cultural investments all year round. ...
  2. Bring diverse people and perspectives into the content creation process. ...
  3. Be conscientious and challenge the “why” behind your content. ...
  4. Embrace education.
Mar 1, 2021

What are some examples of cultural appropriation? ›

dressing up as someone from another culture as a costume. wearing blackface. wearing clothing or jewelry with religious or spiritual significance when you don't practice that religion. any behavior that stereotypes or puts down members of another culture.

How can we prevent cultural appropriation in the classroom? ›

Connect those experiences to the idea of cultural appropriation and have students provide examples from their own lives or media sources. Remind students that just because someone understands a culture, it doesn't give them the right to claim it as their own.

How would you address cultural appropriation in the classroom? ›

Taking Action
  1. Use teacher or classroom resources that have been created by Indigenous peoples or organizations.
  2. Critically examine all student resources to determine that they are authentic Indigenous resources, not created by people who “were inspired” by Indigenous cultures.
Jan 21, 2022

What are the 3 types of cultural appropriation? ›

Defined as the use of a culture's symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture, cultural appropriation can be placed into 4 categories: exchange, dominance, exploitation, and transculturation.

Which of the following is the best example of a consequence of cultural appropriation? ›

Which of the following is an example of a consequence of cultural appropriation? It trivializes the sacred. It perpetuates racist stereotypes.

Why is cultural appropriation important? ›

Cultural appropriation fuels social inequality, injustice, and racism. It is important to note that cultural appropriation also fuels social inequality, injustice, and racism.

How can we show respect to other cultures? ›

Listen to their stories and experiences, without being critical or judgmental. Ask questions and take a genuine interest in what it means to be from another culture. This will not only help you to broaden your world view, but also help you to show respect for cultural differences when they arise.

What is cultural appropriation essay? ›

The Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “The act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture,” and while cultural appropriation is unacceptable, it is not necessarily the appropriation itself that is wrong; ...

How do you promote cultural appreciation? ›

So here are seven things you can do to promote cultural literacy and awareness in your business.
  1. Get training for global citizenship. ...
  2. Bridge the culture gap with good communication skills. ...
  3. Practice good manners. ...
  4. Celebrate traditional holidays, festivals, and food. ...
  5. Observe and listen to foreign customers and colleagues.
Sep 22, 2017

How can we avoid cultural imposition? ›

On one side of the spectrum, critics of cultural appropriation state that it's not wrong to use or adopt things from other cultures.
...
5 Ways to Avoid Cultural Appropriation
  1. Research the Culture. ...
  2. Avoid the Sacred. ...
  3. Don't Stereotype. ...
  4. Promote Diversity. ...
  5. Engage, Promote & Share Benefits.

How can we avoid appropriation in art? ›

Forms of Cultural Appropriation to Avoid
  1. Don't use a whole culture or some cultural elements and décor.
  2. Don't use cultural dress as costumes.
  3. Don't ignore the significance of cultural elements when creating art inspired by them.
  4. Consider your phrases.
  5. Practical Case: Create an African Mask without Cultural Appropriation.
Aug 31, 2021

How do you talk to children about cultural appropriation? ›

When faced with an instance of cultural appropriation, here's how you can begin to navigate that conversation with your child.
  1. First, ask them why this is important to them. ...
  2. Discuss the context of that piece of culture together. ...
  3. Explain how other cultures are treated differently. ...
  4. Offer alternative suggestions.
Jun 17, 2021

Should cultural appropriation be taught in schools? ›

Teaching students about cultural appropriation is important because students should be given the opportunity to learn about how the actions they may take in representing other cultures can be incentive and harmful so they can do better and teach others.

Is it okay to wear Aboriginal art? ›

If you're still unsure if it's appropriate for you, then you should ask before you buy it. People wearing products with Indigenous designs should feel comfortable and proud wearing it. You may encounter some awkward and unexpected questions or comments, so the person wearing it needs to be prepared.

What is cultural appropriation education? ›

Introduction. Cultural appropriation is defined as “the use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that doesn't respect their original meaning, give credit to their source, or reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression” (Verywell Mind).

Is appropriation in art acceptable? ›

Appropriation art can also sometimes be considered fair use. Courts have laid out four things to consider when determining whether a use falls under the fair use exception: Commercial use. Courts consider whether the appropriation of the artwork creates a commercial benefit for the new artist.

How can Japanese culture be not appropriate? ›

If you're planning a trip to Japan, here are a few cultural faux pas you should be aware of.
  1. Don't break the rules of chopstick etiquette. ...
  2. Don't wear shoes indoors. ...
  3. Don't ignore the queuing system. ...
  4. Avoid eating on the go. ...
  5. Don't get into a bathtub before showering first. ...
  6. Don't blow your nose in public. ...
  7. Don't leave a tip.
Sep 12, 2017

Is anime cultural appropriation? ›

But otaku don't have to worry about their hobby being a form of cultural appropriation. That isn't to say you shouldn't be wary of cultural appropriation. Some sensitivity is needed. Just remember that manga and anime are entertainment and not always a representation of Japanese culture as a whole.

Is wearing henna cultural appropriation? ›

The Rise Of The Popularity Of Henna Tattoos

To some, these beautiful, wearable artworks are harmless, but the nontraditional wearing of henna has been met with widespread outcries of cultural appropriation.

Is wearing a Mexican dress cultural appropriation? ›

So, is it okay for you to wear a Mexican embroidered dress, practice the art of smudging, or display Otomi art in your home? Yes, but only if you purchase said pieces from a Mexican designer, artist, or retailer. And, of course, you must be using these items in a way that honors and reveres Mexican culture.

How does cultural appropriation affect indigenous peoples? ›

Effects of Cultural Appropriation

First, it tends to lock Indigenous peoples into the past without acknowledging that they are still living, practicing sacred ceremonies and that contemporary Indigenous peoples extend their worldviews and livelihood throughout all segments of society.

Why do you think it is necessary to be aware of culturally appropriate techniques when communicating with people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse abilities? ›

Whether you speak the same language or not, it's necessary to be able to understand and navigate around cultural differences. If you don't, it may lead to unfortunate misunderstandings. These communication tips and techniques will make it easier to communicate with your coworkers and run your business.

Is it wrong to wear clothing from another culture? ›

It's definitely more cultural appreciation. As long as we do it in a respectful way, I don't see any problem with someone wearing clothes from a different culture. It's not a bad way to start learning about other cultures and it could even help other people to learn more about that culture through you.

How can you support cultural diversity? ›

respect individual differences and acknowledge that membership of a particular group doesn't mean everyone from that group has the same values, beliefs, rituals and needs. encourage young people to recognise and appreciate people for the things that make them unique and special.

Do you think it is important to show respect to others culture Why or why not? ›

Culture shapes our identity and influences our behaviors, and cultural diversity makes us accept, and even to some extent, integrate and assimilate with other cultures. Cultural diversity has become very important in today's world.

How do you build relationships with different cultures? ›

15 Tips for Building Stronger Cross-cultural Relationships
  1. Start with your own bias. ...
  2. Identify your intentions. ...
  3. Smile and say hello. ...
  4. Educate yourself. ...
  5. Spend time in unfamiliar spaces. ...
  6. Don't tokenize. ...
  7. It's not all about you. ...
  8. Don't appropriate.
Oct 15, 2019

What is the best way to manage conflicts based on cultural differences in the Philippines? ›

Take responsibility for your part of the cultural conflict management and ask the other person to do the same. Explain why you feel the way you do and what you need from the other person for resolution. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying and try to understand where they are coming from.

Why is it important to study cultural diversity? ›

Learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world in which we live. It helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups. In addition, cultural diversity helps us recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own.

Is cultural appropriation damaging? ›

Cultural appropriation is considered harmful by various groups and individuals, including Indigenous people working for cultural preservation, those who advocate for collective intellectual property rights of the originating, minority cultures, and those who have lived or are living under colonial rule.

What is appropriation essay? ›

Appropriation is in primary aspects, "the taking over of images with established meaning and identity and giving them a fresh meaning and identity" -Arthur Danto, After the end of art 1997 or the use of borrowed elements, aspects or techniques in the creation of a new piece.

What are five ways to encourage cultural diversity? ›

Strategies to Promote Inclusiveness
  • Acknowledge Differences. ...
  • Offer Implicit Bias Training -- for Everyone. ...
  • Provide Mentors. ...
  • Let People Learn by Doing. ...
  • Encourage Personal Evaluation. ...
  • Ask Questions. ...
  • Value All Diversity.
Oct 6, 2015

What strategies have you used to respond to diversity challenges? ›

Here are some ways that will help overcome diversity challenges:
  • Take a look at your recruiting and hiring practices. ...
  • Establish mentoring opportunities. ...
  • Promote team work. ...
  • Make inclusion a priority. ...
  • Provide Diversity Training.

How do you resolve cultural conflict? ›

The best way to resolve or handle cultural conflict is by learning about other cultures. Organizations work in diverse environments. This gives people the opportunity to interact regardless of culture (Wang, 2018).

How do you overcome cultural bias? ›

4 Ways to avoid cultural bias in international people assessments
  1. 4 Key ways to improve your international assessment approach. ...
  2. 1: Apply culturally fair assessment instruments. ...
  3. 2: Consider how tests are translated. ...
  4. 3: Use local norm groups. ...
  5. 4: Ensure your assessors are culturally aware. ...
  6. References.

How can we prevent cultural appropriation in the classroom? ›

Connect those experiences to the idea of cultural appropriation and have students provide examples from their own lives or media sources. Remind students that just because someone understands a culture, it doesn't give them the right to claim it as their own.

How can we prevent cultural appropriation in music? ›

Consider listening to and sharing the music of historically excluded artists who identify with the culture from which you wish to borrow. You may discover that there are authentic and positive ways for you to pay homage to a culture, especially when you consult people from that culture.

What are the 3 types of cultural appropriation? ›

Defined as the use of a culture's symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture, cultural appropriation can be placed into 4 categories: exchange, dominance, exploitation, and transculturation.

How can we avoid cultural imposition? ›

On one side of the spectrum, critics of cultural appropriation state that it's not wrong to use or adopt things from other cultures.
...
5 Ways to Avoid Cultural Appropriation
  1. Research the Culture. ...
  2. Avoid the Sacred. ...
  3. Don't Stereotype. ...
  4. Promote Diversity. ...
  5. Engage, Promote & Share Benefits.

Is wearing a Mexican dress cultural appropriation? ›

So, is it okay for you to wear a Mexican embroidered dress, practice the art of smudging, or display Otomi art in your home? Yes, but only if you purchase said pieces from a Mexican designer, artist, or retailer. And, of course, you must be using these items in a way that honors and reveres Mexican culture.

Is braiding your hair cultural appropriation? ›

Despite the fact that naturally straight hair is not as adaptable for braids, the women were called beautiful and cutting-edge. This was cultural appropriation at work.

Is wearing henna cultural appropriation? ›

The Rise Of The Popularity Of Henna Tattoos

To some, these beautiful, wearable artworks are harmless, but the nontraditional wearing of henna has been met with widespread outcries of cultural appropriation.

How do you resolve cultural conflict? ›

The best way to resolve or handle cultural conflict is by learning about other cultures. Organizations work in diverse environments. This gives people the opportunity to interact regardless of culture (Wang, 2018).

Is it wrong to wear clothing from another culture? ›

It's definitely more cultural appreciation. As long as we do it in a respectful way, I don't see any problem with someone wearing clothes from a different culture. It's not a bad way to start learning about other cultures and it could even help other people to learn more about that culture through you.

Is wearing sari cultural appropriation? ›

A sari is a traditional Indian dress. There is no religious background of this dress, and if somebody not from India wears a sari skirt, it doesn't signify cultural appropriation. This means that the people of all backgrounds can wear sari skirts. Wearing a sari skirt is not cultural appropriation.

Is Boho cultural appropriation? ›

Overall, whether or not boho fashion can technically be considered cultural appropriation is still a debate. However, we believe it's certainly problematic. Taking another culture's traditions just because we love the way these clothes look on us really does highlight our privilege, don't you think?

Can Latinas wear box braids? ›

For Latinas of African descent, rocking a hairstyle like box braids or bantu knots shouldn't cause hesitation because Afro-Latinas are mixed race. Many have hair textures similar to that of black women.

Can Mexicans wear box braids? ›

Traditional Mexican braids don't include styles like box braids and cornrows. Therefore, some people may consider it cultural appropriation when those styles are worn by Mexicans who don't have African heritage. If you want to err on the side of caution, stick with braided styles unique to your cultural heritage.

Why did slaves wear cornrows? ›

Cornrows were a sign of resistance for slaves because they used it as maps to escape from slavery and they would hide rice or seeds into their braids on their way to enslavement.

How do I get rid of Hanna? ›

Use half a cup of warm water, a full tablespoon of baking soda, and two teaspoons of lemon juice. Apply this mixture with a cotton swab and let it soak into your skin before removing it. Keep repeating until the henna can't be seen.

Is getting henna a sin? ›

No — henna does not violate Leviticus 19 (in my opinion). "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.

Is a mandala tattoo cultural appropriation? ›

However, by the above definition, cultural appropriation is very common in tattoo culture. Many white people sport tribal blackwork designs inspired by Maori culture. Mexican “sugar skull” designs and mandala tattoos inspired by Hindu and Buddhist practices have become increasingly popular.

Videos

1. Episode 14: Cultural Appropriation and How it Affects our Community [Uncut Version]
(Redefining ABCD)
2. Culture Appropriation & Re-Appropriation Talk
(The One Club for Creativity)
3. Let's Talk About It: Cultural Appropriation
(Let'sTalk About It!)
4. Fashion and Colonialism with Céline Semaan
(Slow Factory)
5. We need to talk about the "I'm not like other girls" problem in historical costume dramas
(Abby Cox)
6. Racism & The Fashion Industry
(Chloé Kian)
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