We’re probably all guilty of this. We buy clothes and we don’t think about where our threads come from or who they might actually offend; and let’s face it, fashion can be explosively controversial… just ask the clothing chain Urban Outfitters.
When Urban Outfitters came out with a line of Navajo-inspired products — think pants, socks, shirts, underwear and even a flask — the Navajo Nation responded immediately… cease and desist. You see, the the “Navajo” line (yes, that’s what it’s called) was not designed by someone from the Navajo Nation, in fact, the patterns and designs are what you’d call, “Native American-inspired” or “tribal;” on top of that, the company’s use of the word “Navajo” could violate The Federal Indian Arts And Crafts Act.
Translation: “It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States.”
In addition to possibly violating The Federal Indian Arts And Crafts Act, plus several trademarks owned by the tribe, there is the very big matter of respect — respecting a group of people and their culture.
Adrienne Keene, a writer for Indian Country, wrote the following and she makes it perfectly clear that Urban Outfitter’s fashion faux pas goes WAY beyond money or trademark infringements:
This is also an issue of representation, and an issue of power. I, personally, don’t care about a pair of socks called “Navajo,” but I do care about what they represent. They represent the appropriation of Native American cultures and lifeways, and the continued stereotyping of Indigenous Peoples. Most consumers look at that sock and can’t imagine that it holds any meaning beyond its $4.99 price tag. But I, and other Native people, look at that sock and see that the painful history that has allowed the vast majority of Americans to ignore our continued existence.
These “Navajo” products, and the thousands like them found at shops all over the world, relegate Native peoples to a stereotype. We are nothing more than a one-dimensional fictitious “Native American culture” represented by southwestern designs, fringe, feathers, and buckskin; when in reality we are a diverse, vibrant population of over 565 tribes and communities, each with our own traditions, languages and cultures.
As for Urban Outfitters, spokesman Ed Looram said the following: “Like many other fashion brands, we interpret trends and will continue to do so for years to come. The Native American-inspired trend and specifically the term `Navajo’ have been cycling through fashion, fine art and design for the last few years.”
So what do you think?