September 24, 2011

Urban Outfitters' "Native" products

Adrienne Keene reviews the Urban Outfitters website in her Native Appropriations blog. She notes the plethora of products with "Navajo" names.

Urban Outfitters is Obsessed with NavajosSo what's inherently wrong with using Navajo in product names? And what can tribal nations do about it?

First of all, these products represent a stereotype of "southwest" Native cultures. The designs are loosely based on Navajo rug designs (maybe?) or Pendleton designs, but aren't representations that are chosen by the tribe or truly representative of Navajo culture. Associating a sovereign Nation of hundreds of thousands of people witl a flask or women's underwear isn't exactly honoring.

Additionally, it's more than likely that Urban chose "Navajo" for the international recognition--to most of the world Navajo (and Cherokee)= American Indian (my Jamaican friend didn't even know there were other tribes in the US until she met me). This conflation of Navajo with "generic Indian" contributes to the further erasure of the distinct tribes and cultures in the US and solidifies the idea that there is only one "Native" culture, represented by plains feathers and southwest designs.
And:A few months ago, they Navajo Nation Attorney General actually sent a cease and desist letter to Urban Outfitters, and there are some great quotes from the letter (I'll try and post it in full in another post):Your corporation’s use of Navajo will cause confusion in the market and society concerning the source or origin of your corporation’s products. Consumers will incorrectly believe that the Nation has licensed, approved, or authorized your corporation’s use of the Navajo name and trademarks for its products—when the Nation has not—or that your corporation’s use of Navajo is an extension of the Nation’s family of trademarks—which it is not. This is bound to cause confusion, mistake, or deception with respect to the source or origin of your goods. This undermines the character and uniqueness of the Nation’s long-standing distinctive Navajo name and trademarks, which—because of its false connection with the Nation—dilutes and tarnishes the name and trademarks. Accordingly, please immediately cease and desist using the Navajo name and trademark with your products.Comment:  The stereotype here is that some silly fashion products accurately represent the Navajo or any other Native culture. They don't.

For more on fashion appropriations, see "Native Wolves" Spirit Hoods and "Cherokee Chic" = Generic Hippie Look.

Below:  Navajo Hipster Panty.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Attorney General should do the same for the "Navajo/Digby" trucking company. Have you seen their logo? Some brunette-haired, blue-eyed, white girl wearing an eagle feather with the word "Navajo" emblazened above her photo. Most peculiar. JD