An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters on Columbus Day

by Guest Contributor Sasha Houston Brown

Urban Outfitters

Dear Glen T. Senk, CEO Urban Outfitters Inc.

This past weekend, I had the unfortunate experience of visiting a local Urban Outfitters store in Minneapolis. It appeared as though the recording “artist” Ke$ha had violently exploded in the store, leaving behind a cheap, vulgar and culturally offensive retail collection. Plastic dreamcatchers wrapped in pleather hung next to an indistinguishable mass of artificial feather jewelry and hyper sexualized clothing featuring an abundance of suede, fringe and inauthentic tribal patterns.

In all seriousness, as a Native American woman, I am deeply distressed by your company’s mass marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor. I take personal offense to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as “fashion.”

All too often industries, sports teams and ignorant individuals legitimize racism under the guise of cultural “appreciation”. There is nothing honorable or historically appreciative in selling items such as the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace, Staring at Stars Skull Native Headdress T-shirt or the Navajo Hipster Panty. These and the dozens of other tacky products you are currently selling referencing Native America make a mockery of our identity and unique cultures.

Your corporate website claims to “offer a lifestyle-specific shopping experience for the educated, urban-minded individual”. If this is the case, then clearly you have missed the mark on your target demographic. There is simply nothing educated about your collection, which on the contrary professes extreme ignorance and bigotry.

My primary concern with your company is the level on which you are engaging in cultural and religious appropriation. None of your products are actually made by Indigenous nations, nor were any Native peoples involved in the production or design process. On the contrary, you have created cheap knock-off trinkets made in factories overseas. Selling imported plastic and nylon dreamcatchers disrespects our history and undermines our sovereignty as Tribal Nations.

Did I mention that marketing inauthentic products using Native American tribal names is also illegal? The company’s actions violate the Federal Indian Arts and Crafts act of 1990 and the Federal Trade Commission Act. According to the Department of the Interior:

“The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. 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. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000”.

I doubt that you consulted the Navajo Nation about using their tribal name on sophisticated items such as the “Navajo Hipster Panty”. In fact, I recently became aware that the Navajo Nation Attorney General sent your company a cease and desist letter regarding this very issue. I stand in solidarity with the Navajo Nation and ask that you not only cease and desist selling products falsely using the Navajo name, but that you also stop selling faux Indian apparel that objectifies all tribes.

Urban Outfitters Inc. has taken Indigenous life ways and artistic expressions and trivialized and sexualized them for the sake of corporate profit. It is this kind of behavior that perpetuates the stereotype of the white man’s Indian and allows for the ongoing commodification of an entire ethnic group. Just as our traditional homelands were stolen and expropriated without regard, so too has our very cultural identity. On this day that America still celebrates as Columbus Day, I ask that do what is morally right and apologize to Indigenous peoples of North America and withdraw this offensive line from retail stores.

Sincerely,

Sasha Houston Brown, Dakota
Santee Sioux Nation

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  • guest

    And why does the Washington Post have its comments closed for this article?

  • http://profiles.google.com/tragicnotbeautiful fee .

    Charlie, I love you.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/beezyyx AnnaLeigh Douglass

    i agree with your point, Sasha, as i am Najavo (Diné) myself. but i also noticed that you said, “i doubt that you consulted the Navajo Nation…” and also “…nor were any Native peoples involved in the production or design process.”  do you know these things as facts? did you ever ask before making the assumption? i think that may be an important flaw in your argument.

    that being said, i definitely whole-heartedly agree and support your plea for the correction of these product names. i, too, think it is completely wrong to place the Navajo name on any products that weren’t directly created by our people.

  • Samantha

    I am a skinny little college white girl, but I am so appalled when I see other people from my demographic dressing up in Native American headdresses etc. that they do not know the meaning behind. They’re ignorant of the culture and I can’t believe that it goes so widely without objection.

  • Walterrice44

    I certainly would have signed the petition. Urban Outfitters knockoffs were extremely offensive. Even though I got an email before  the date when they relented I did not reply. (Did they issue a public apology and publicize it, that I don’t know) The reason I didn’t is I have almost 10,000 messages in my e-mail box. I do miss a lot of important events.  When I get a chance, I’m going to try to  Clear out my e-mail.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1032278476 Lizzy Leigh Vasquez

    Well said. I’ve had the privilege to be at the reservation in Chinle three times, and I think any self respecting Navajo would spit on these products. They’re ugly, they’re tacky, they’re idiotic and they’re offensive. If it makes you feel any better, this white girl wouldn’t buy any of it either!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1032278476 Lizzy Leigh Vasquez

    Well said. I’ve had the privilege to be at the reservation in Chinle three times, and I think any self respecting Navajo would spit on these products. They’re ugly, they’re tacky, they’re idiotic and they’re offensive. If it makes you feel any better, this white girl wouldn’t buy any of it either!

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  • Karianez

    It’s absolutely disgraceful. As if the Native Americans have not suffered enough now this mockery and profit at their expense. Saddens me deeply. Some people/companies have no shame. I think Urban Outfitters need to rethink this. I also believe all Native-American antiquities should be returned to the rightful tribe.

  • Karianez

    It’s absolutely disgraceful. As if the Native Americans have not suffered enough now this mockery and profit at their expense. Saddens me deeply. Some people/companies have no shame. I think Urban Outfitters need to rethink this. I also believe all Native-American antiquities should be returned to the rightful tribe.

  • Karianez

    It’s absolutely disgraceful. As if the Native Americans have not suffered enough now this mockery and profit at their expense. Saddens me deeply. Some people/companies have no shame. I think Urban Outfitters need to rethink this. I also believe all Native-American antiquities should be returned to the rightful tribe.

  • Karianez

    It’s absolutely disgraceful. As if the Native Americans have not suffered enough now this mockery and profit at their expense. Saddens me deeply. Some people/companies have no shame. I think Urban Outfitters need to rethink this. I also believe all Native-American antiquities should be returned to the rightful tribe.

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  • Taraqbee

    Great article and good for her! I jus wrote an essay about this article and Sasha for a history class focusing on Native America Past, Present, and Future.  It makes you wonder how many other “influenced” trends retailers have represented!

  • Bijoux

    Hi there. First of all, Sasha, I’m right behind you. Wow, a seriously well presented, well thought out argument apparent to anyone not familiar with US laws, politics and protocols.

    I’ve a slightly different take on this, I’m an African-Briton writing from the UK where O.U. have a few stores in main cities and a large webstore. However apologetically O.U. may claim the offence they have caused was unintentional, is it really an improvement to re-name the  Navajo Hip Flask  the Aztec Hip Flask for British customers? Presumably they may be hoping your valid criticism of their marketing will miss the radar in the UK. Don’t worry, it wont.

    Do check out Urban Outfitters UK site. http://www.urbanoutfitters.co.uk

    I’m sure the Navajo Nation Attorney General may have some thoughts and actions regarding how his nation and culture are represented outside of the US by Urban Outfitters.

    But this argument does raise other questions for me. There is in Bristol (UK)  an ethical store selling home decorations owned by a Buddhist Community, that uses it’s profits for genuine  charitable purposes (not all of these are Buddhist, some are international orgs for people of all and any faiths.) Anyhow, they purchase fair trade goods made in developing countries, (Africa, India, etc..) that are sold by fair trade wholesalers and chosen by their buyers from catalogues.

    Now I happen to know, these include a whole set of  ‘dream catchers’ not labelled as Navajo or in any way related to Native American First Nationals. They are just hanging there with other mobiles and wind chimes. Some have feathers attached, some have wind chimes attached, some have stain glass decoration, but they all have the woven web in the centre. It’s all done as tastefully as possible. They are certainly not in the same class as some of the obviously cheap and tacky U.O. tosh, but would you view these as equally questionable and demeaning? I would appreciate your take and advice on this issue and will pass it on. I know they would be horrified if they thought what they were doing would cause any offence.

    • Katie Svensen

      The Aztec hip flask has a completely different pattern and color scheme than the previously-named Navajo hip flask (they’ve since removed “Navajo” from the product title). The flask you’re referring to has a South American style print.

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  • Bungeedog

    I’m of European descent. Work on a reservation – for the past 23 years.  Thank you for your articulate careful objection to this coorporation.  Now, take on the decor at “Famous Dave’s” Restaurants next.  Thank you.  

  • Anonymous

    There seems to be a really stupid attitude, I’ve noticed since my childhood in the 1950′s that it is “okay” to take advantage of and offend Native Americans because there are “simply not enough of them” to do anything serious against any group or company or even Hollywood movies that do that stuff. On top of that it was always assumed that only a “white liberal champion”  could speak for them and be heard, while “real Native” voices were always deemed “too unimportant” to be heard. Some of my happier memories are of the occupation of the BIA building in Washington, D.C. and the occupation of Wounded Knee.
    No matter what the newsmedia said at the time, real things were accomplished. Thank you, Ms. Brown, I am signing that petition, even though I have never shopped Urban Outfitters, and I might just visit a store just to make a complaint.

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  • Givingrief

    As someone who works in the fashion industry, I am shocked that something like this actually made it through to production and distribution without notice. There are many rules and regulations that must be followed in this industry – for instance, if a garment has a horn button, it must be verified with the US Fish & Wildlife Service that the horn was not from an endangered animal; there are copyright infringements that must be adhered to; etc. Someone really dropped the ball on that one. These goods should have been immediately recalled.

    On a side note, while I am not Native American, I do have a deep appreciation for the beauty and variety of all Native crafts. I own a few Native American pieces, including two dream catchers, however all were purchased directly from Native craftspeople at a Native American cultural festival held in my town each year. I would never dream of cheapening the beauty and symbolism of these works of art by buying cheap “Made in China” knockoffs.

    • Lyonside

      >I own a few Native American pieces, including two dream catchers,
      however all were purchased directly from Native craftspeople at a Native
      American cultural festival held in my town each year.

      That for me is the difference between appreciation and appropriation.

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  • Mal

    Just have to point out that, as I’m reading this letter, there is a big URBAN OUTFITTERS ad on the right side of the page.  Woops!!

    • Lyonside

      This was pointed out upthread, but that’s because of google using search history, not because
      UA actually sponsors Racialicious.

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  • http://arathershortgirl.blogspot.com/ Shortgirl

    Tabut ni – Thank you from a Mohegan woman who thinks that Urban has taken it a bit too far.

    “Native Hipster Panties”…. WTF.

  • Janmunk

    Where is the social commitment with our corporations? Thanks for this letter: as its design makes us aware of our own individual commitment to our own integrity, to the dignity of our fellow human beings, sisters and brothers. Let’s not give up there is always time to stop, reflect and act upon such misgivings (not to say insults).

  • risingphoenix

    I read your post and visited the website to try to see for myself what Sasha was talking about.  By typing the keyword “Navajo” into Urban Outfitter’s search window, I was presented with the “Navajo Hipster Panty,” the “Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask,” and a series of other items with the word “Navajo” in their titles.  The 2 I mentioned by name really stood out to me as being nauseatingly offensive.  Presenting a flask as a “Navajo” item is inaccurate and shows the insensitivity of Urban Outfitters to real-world problems Native American communities face which are firmly rooted in colonialism and oppression.  The “Navajo Hipster Panty” is truly revolting in that it is modeled on an anorexicish caucasion body.  Now what’s the deal here?  Really, its just gross.  Our fast paced, youth-centric, thin-obsessed, capitalistic culture making a mockery of (poorly executed) copies of the cultural artifacts of a people that were nearly eradicated by the arrival of disease, violence, oppression, and alcoholism – courtesy of European settlers – to their world.  Do your homework Urban Outfitters.  Don’t make a crude flask and ugly underwear, drop a print on them, and call them “Navajo.”  That’s going too far.  I, for one, or perhaps for many because I have a lot of friends, won’t be shopping at your store.

  • Stephanie S.

    Thank you for articulating that so well. I had a similar reaction when seeing one of my favorite stores (Delias) create a line clothing under the theme “So Navajo!”. It makes me sad that entire cultures can be reduced to cheaply made, passing trends. I might have to forward them a link to this. ..! 

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  • Alpha Dawg

    Urban outfitters, here me now. I am a proud Choctaw. You have a lot of stores in my area, and I will never buy anything from your stores ever again, and niether will my family; which is close and numbers in the hundreds, also I live in a large community, and I will make everyone in my community aware, so they will not shop at your stores either. Also here on this blog I encourage anyone whether you are Native American or just respectful to our people do the same. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kristin-Johnson/644645530 Kristin Johnson

    Attention non-Native people….don’t just offer your support here in the comments.  Contact Urban Outfitters yourself (by letter, email, phone).  As long as they think only Native Americans are offended, they won’t pull the products or change the name, because the demographic is too small to affect their bottom line–that’s the sad truth.  But if they start hearing directly from enough people outside the Native American community, they will take notice. 

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  • aeg66

    Navajo Hipster Panty???? What jackass came up with that concept & label for an underpant. Then again UO has always been overpriced product made cheaply so tacky doesn’t surprise me.
    Go Sasha!

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  • http://dont-read.blogspot.com Angel H.

    Because we all know that racism will just go away if we ignore it, right?

  • Ech2123

    Thank you for expressing your perspective and feelings so eloquently.  These products are outrageously insensitive. Consumers need to be informed of offensive and irreverent products to make respectful choices.  Please be assured I will not be buying such products.  Here in Alaska I buy the handcrafted products of native artists and decline the mass produced trinkets.  It is a problem that effects indigenous peoples all over the world and consumers needs to be aware of the offensiveness and sacrilege of such products. 

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  • http://twitter.com/BeckaShield Rebecca Shield

    You’re Amazing! 

  • Makomenaw

    Sasha,  Thank you for your posting and letter to Urban Outfitters.  I’m an Ojibwe from the Isabella Reservation but find myself in Navajo and Ute country working for a university in Utah.  I recently did a presentation entitled “Not for your Consumption” and displayed the Land O’ Lakes butter icon on the flyers.  For the presentation we discussed the various images and misappropriations of native art and culture.  Specifically, how the misappropriations dehumanizes an entire race.  This dehumanization I believe leads to the justification of the ongoing abuse towards native women.  Native women are 2 1/2 times more likely to be physically and sexually abused than any other race (per 2007 Amnesty International Report: Maze of Injustice).   
    Have you thought of creating an online protest through Change.org?

    • Lyonside

      > I recently did a presentation entitled “Not for your Consumption” and displayed the Land O’ Lakes butter icon on the flyer

      That reminds me of an old MAD magazine segment on advertising, It had a LandOLakes mock-ad and the spokesmodel going, “What your people call corn and my people call maize.” And the caption said, “What people? The ones at the dairy, or the ones at the ad agency?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Flittie/100001871910151 Richard Flittie

    Wopida Tanka, Sasha.  translation in Dakota–Great thanks, Sasha

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Flittie/100001871910151 Richard Flittie

    Wopida Tanka, Sasha.  translation in Dakota–Great thanks, Sasha

  • Lyonside

    I hate the “one person of group X said it’s OK, so it must be OK. and I can’t be arsed to talk to more than just people in my social circle.”

    I’m going to put it this way, drawing from my own religious tradition: What if a designer decides to use a consecrated Host as the centerpiece of their Spring jewelry line, just in time for Easter [something absolutely appalling and sacrilegious to Catholic traditions (not just Roman), and pretty offensive to many other Christian denominations who have a Eucharistic tradition, even if it doesn't mean the same thing to them].

    Worse, “Host-wear” is picked up by the Gap and Urban Outfitter et al., mass produced in another country, and advertised everywhere.

    Should the fact that the artist is Catholic, or that there are Catholics working for or shopping for the stores, make it any less offensive? Maybe the person who claims to be Catholic had 2 years of Sunday school and never learned the ins and outs of the religion. Maybe they were raised Catholic but had a falling out with their parents. Maybe they left the faith long ago. Maybe they feel that a “take the money and run” justification trumps any objections. Or maybe they’ve bought into the hipster “I meant it ironically so it’s OK” bullshit.

    Any way you slice it, it’s still offensive, it’s still a violation, and it’s still appropriation. I don’t care who anybody knows in the industry – OWN THE BIGOTRY, ALREADY.

    • Anonymous

      It’s not even hypothetical if you’re Buddhist. Every home decor place in the country has shelves full of Buddhas next to the garden gnomes. 

      • Lyonside

        And that’s a show of my own Christian privilege that my brain didn’t go there first. That said, Buddha statues are something I would NEVER own, because 1) some of my friends are Buddhist, and they take their religion seriously and I respect it and them, and 2) you do not appropriate other people’s cultural and religious objects because you think they’re “cute” or “funny.” Take that offensive shite elsewhere.

  • Sky Wiseman

    As a Navajo woman I have had the same experience seeing products at Pacsun listed as Navajo. Such as Navajo scarf and Navajo printed short-shorts, etc… I believe this is a disgrace to my culture, and people who buy these items should be aware that they are buying products that cheapen and vulgarize my tribes name and that of others. I thank Sasha Brown’s valiant efforts to attempt to stop this mockery of our culture.

  • Sky Wiseman

    As a Navajo woman I have had the same experience seeing products at Pacsun listed as Navajo. Such as Navajo scarf and Navajo printed short-shorts, etc… I believe this is a disgrace to my culture, and people who buy these items should be aware that they are buying products that cheapen and vulgarize my tribes name and that of others. I thank Sasha Brown’s valiant efforts to attempt to stop this mockery of our culture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sigrid.reyes Sigrid Reyes

    I can see how she would be  angry. At the very least they should re-name their line to something that does not encourage someone to assosciate the product with the navajo people.Personally I would be more satisfied if they completely stopped selling it. The fact that the company said they had no plans to do any of this is just offensive and insulting in and off itself. At this point maybe they could be persuaded under the fact that it is false advertisement being that there is nothing navajo of the product as they would like people to believe.

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  • Markuspladicus

    Not to rain on your parade, but I personally know one of the designers who created the patterns you seen on Urban Outfitters Navajo clothing.  She is actually Native American. Sure she isn’t Navajo exactly, but she is Indigenous American.

    • Ali

      Doesn’t make it okay. The items are still mass-produced which is the exact opposite of craft production. Not to mention the target demographic is young white people who will go out and wear this shit, like the hipsters and their headresses.

  • Hezrions

    To my knowledge I’ve never shopped at Urban Outfitters but from now on I’ll make sure I never will. Solidarity, Sasha! UO is on my boycott list!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RJJGSVSJNNWOZWOGE52V6MCRVQ DIEGOF

    I admire your stance, keep it up!

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    Way to go Sasha wonderful letter! I’ve been inside of UO because I heard it catered to hipster racism by making cheap knockoffs of cultural products they blatantly appropriate.

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  • Chitownchicas

    Are you aware of how Cinco de Mayo is celebrated here in the United States?  A letter would never suffice.  

  • Jlujan69

    As a Pacific Islander, I say, you go girl!!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NWY62EQZFR7OUUOFXGZW442VT4 Christina

    YOU GO GIRL!!!

  • cassandra

    I just wanted to say thank you for not only writing this but having the courage to send it. As a woman seeing those panties made me cringe and as a Native American it made me angry.I think of what my grandmother being continually mistreated and bullied as a child and even as an adult because of her heritage. I think of her mother growing up on a reservation and being told not to go into town because our people were not welcome there. Urban Outfitters has waded so far from their so called mission statement. Frankly,what I find most offensive is how completely unaware they seem to be of their affect on the public. These products are offensive and just downright tacky.

  • James

    This is as bad as going to Sambo’s Restaurant. Their is no excuse for it. What else do they offer? Halloween costumes little Indians?

    • GoRodney!

      I remember “Little Black Sambo’s” Restaurant!  I wondered how they got away with it, though now I’m 50 and they are gone.  I tried to explain those restaurants to my teenage kids.  And though Caucasian, (and now Californian) I grew up in Phoenix Arizona, and my family has traveled extensively through Arizona.  I love the Native American items, including a real Dream Catcher made from leather and feathers that my 12 year old daughter has hanging in the center of her room.  All of the “trinkets” I have purchased from real Native manufacturer are beautiful with excellent quality.  I think Sasha’s writing totally brought forward the lameness of the Urban Outfitter’s products.  Maybe rename their store to Urban Nit-witters.  I don’t think anyone here expects them to quit this line until they are hit with a massive lawsuit from the Navajo tribes.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=691486460 JT Kee

        Agreed. Also, I believe many Sambos were absorbed by the popular franchise Denny’s. Just sayin’. And there is still one Sambos in CA.

  • atran

    Before reading this letter, I assumed that it was written by another anti-mainstream radicalist who’s sole purpose in life is to go against everything marketed by corporate america. But after reading Sasha’s letter, it’s apparent that she’s very well read and supports her platform very professionally and adamantly. The pride she has for her Navajo heritage shines through, even under these negative circumstances. I’m impartial towards the clothes marketed by Urban Outfitters (even though the prices are ridiculous), but I do think that Sasha’s concern is a legitimate one.

  • Scottpratte

    Thank you!  This is a brilliant letter.  I cannot stand this new hipster trend of appropriating cultural fashion without valuing any of the actual culture.  I am glad someone spoke their mind in a rational and professional manner.  This sort of news should be publicized more often.

    I have boycotted Urban Outfitters ever since it existed.  It is the epitome of bland white american culture.  I am white and will never purchase anything from that store, it is complete mediocrity.     

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  • Elizabeth Junker

    Thank you, Sasha Houston Brown. It saddens me to think, however, that the only part of your marvelous letter that will prompt a response is the mention of the legal aspects of infringing upon Navajo and Native American rights per the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. It would be nice to have Urban Outfitters cease and desist for altruistic reasons, just because it is the right thing to do. But I somehow doubt that, if this ever is a topic of discussion in an Urban Outfitters conference room, this angle will even be considered.

  • Elizabeth Junker

    Thank you, Sasha Houston Brown. It saddens me to think, however, that the only part of your marvelous letter that will prompt a response is the mention of the legal aspects of infringing upon Navajo and Native American rights per the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. It would be nice to have Urban Outfitters cease and desist for altruistic reasons, just because it is the right thing to do. But I somehow doubt that, if this ever is a topic of discussion in an Urban Outfitters conference room, this angle will even be considered.

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  • October

    Is there a petition I can sign?

  • anon

    Thank you, Sasha, for articulating this so well

  • salish2011

    Way to write a letter!

  • mauritia

    Good on you for sending the letter. While I am not surprised to see something ethically dubious coming from UO, I am continually shocked at the blatant poor taste of the current ‘Native American’ fashion trend.

    Also, your first paragraph made me giggle. Good job, Sasha.

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  • http://twitter.com/_whm w. m.

    while there are aspects of this letter I can support, it leaves me generally confused as to what is “acceptable” in terms of fashion (which is certainly a nebulous term in and of itself)….

    is it the selling of specific patterns/items/colors? or is it the use of those patterns/items/colors in conjunction with a specific name (e.g. ‘Navajo beaded blah blah blah’)? is it both?

    if someone goes out to purchase a dreamcatcher, do they *have* to purchase an authentic, hand-made dreamcatcher, else they’re disrespecting the history and sovereignty of the tribal nations?

    I’m genuinely trying to gain a deeper understanding of this issue, so please don’t attack me.

  • http://twitter.com/_whm w. m.

    while there are aspects of this letter I can support, it leaves me generally confused as to what is “acceptable” in terms of fashion (which is certainly a nebulous term in and of itself)….

    is it the selling of specific patterns/items/colors? or is it the use of those patterns/items/colors in conjunction with a specific name (e.g. ‘Navajo beaded blah blah blah’)? is it both?

    if someone goes out to purchase a dreamcatcher, do they *have* to purchase an authentic, hand-made dreamcatcher, else they’re disrespecting the history and sovereignty of the tribal nations?

    I’m genuinely trying to gain a deeper understanding of this issue, so please don’t attack me.

  • http://twitter.com/_whm w. m.

    while there are aspects of this letter I can support, it leaves me generally confused as to what is “acceptable” in terms of fashion (which is certainly a nebulous term in and of itself)….

    is it the selling of specific patterns/items/colors? or is it the use of those patterns/items/colors in conjunction with a specific name (e.g. ‘Navajo beaded blah blah blah’)? is it both?

    if someone goes out to purchase a dreamcatcher, do they *have* to purchase an authentic, hand-made dreamcatcher, else they’re disrespecting the history and sovereignty of the tribal nations?

    I’m genuinely trying to gain a deeper understanding of this issue, so please don’t attack me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/DanielFRoss Daniel Forrest Ross

      w.m., I’m going to assume good faith here, but please read this on the problem with how you’re coming at that question.

      Googling “cultural appreciation” will bring you millions of words that have already been written on the topic. Here are a couple of particular posts with some “101 level” information on the topic that will help you get started:
      http://alagarconniere.blogspot.com/2010/04/critical-fashion-lovers-basic-guide-to.html
      http://www.racialicious.com/2010/04/22/feminist-intersection-on-hipstershippies-and-native-culture/
      http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/04/but-why-cant-i-wear-hipster-headdress.html

    • Guest

      a dreamcatcher is something spiritually sacred in Native communities–so yes, it is inappropriate to buy a plastic version made overseas at a national retailer. 

    • Kw123

      It says they should stop selling products under the Navajo name, as the goods are not authentic Navajo. So the prints, patterns, designs and names of the products are not what the description states.  

      Not all dream catcher’s are Navajo, so if they sold them as “Urban Outfitter Dream Catcher’s” it would just be a product the shop made and sold. It is the fact that they are falsely using the Navajo name for products that aren’t. 

      So it is, really, the attachment of this ethnic group to products and designs that should embody who they are as a group but instead misinform and abuse the name for the simple goal to sell goods because it is currently ‘fashionable’. 
      I personally love the Navajo prints and goods, but it is true. These products should not be sold under false pretenses.  

      Hope that helps (:

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=691486460 JT Kee

        Dream catchers originate from the Ojibwe.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NQVPALVKL5MCK4HK2OZ276UL7I Alan

        I think it’s both the use of the name and the fact that they’re trying to approximate what, to their minds, looks “Navajo.” They should not only stop using the name, but also review their decision to wholesale rip off patterns or aesthetics from any one culture, especially one that doesn’t have the political or economic power to enforce their ownership of those things (i.e. snap their fingers and summon a demonic hoard of indestructible high-powered super-prosecutors who cause the fabric of the legal system to ripple around them as they walk, to swoop down on their corporate headquarters with startling fury until they have to pay royalties to even say the word “Navajo” in conversations. If only indigenous cultures got the same protection as corporations!) In any case, this only shows how unoriginal and uninspired Urban Outfitters has become. Can’t think of your own designs? Grab someone else’s!

    • Kw123

      It says they should stop selling products under the Navajo name, as the goods are not authentic Navajo. So the prints, patterns, designs and names of the products are not what the description states.  

      Not all dream catcher’s are Navajo, so if they sold them as “Urban Outfitter Dream Catcher’s” it would just be a product the shop made and sold. It is the fact that they are falsely using the Navajo name for products that aren’t. 

      So it is, really, the attachment of this ethnic group to products and designs that should embody who they are as a group but instead misinform and abuse the name for the simple goal to sell goods because it is currently ‘fashionable’. 
      I personally love the Navajo prints and goods, but it is true. These products should not be sold under false pretenses.  

      Hope that helps (:

    • occupymybelly

      It’s debatable whether slapping a generic Native American motif on schlock is offensive, but I think it’s beside the point. What is most offensive is not the appropriation of Native American patterns per se (which happens in fashion all the time and is not in any way illegal), but the appropriation in conjunction with the word ‘Navajo’ which effectively dilutes the association between the Navajo people with the goods they produce. The bottom line is that the Navajo Nation owns trademarks on the word ‘Navajo’; as the trademark owner, Urban Outfitters is infringing upon the Navajo Nation’s exclusive rights to market and license their “brand.” By failing to respect the trademark, Urban Outfitters is essentially stealing from the Navajo Nation. Because of this country’s fraught history with Native Americans vis-a-vis property rights, Urban Outfitter’s capitalizing on the Navajo name without compensation to its lawful proprieters is particulary egregious.

    • occupymybelly

      It’s debatable whether slapping a generic Native American motif on schlock is offensive, but I think it’s beside the point. What is most offensive is not the appropriation of Native American patterns per se (which happens in fashion all the time and is not in any way illegal), but the appropriation in conjunction with the word ‘Navajo’ which effectively dilutes the association between the Navajo people with the goods they produce. The bottom line is that the Navajo Nation owns trademarks on the word ‘Navajo’; as the trademark owner, Urban Outfitters is infringing upon the Navajo Nation’s exclusive rights to market and license their “brand.” By failing to respect the trademark, Urban Outfitters is essentially stealing from the Navajo Nation. Because of this country’s fraught history with Native Americans vis-a-vis property rights, Urban Outfitter’s capitalizing on the Navajo name without compensation to its lawful proprieters is particulary egregious.

  • http://twitter.com/_whm w. m.

    while there are aspects of this letter I can support, it leaves me generally confused as to what is “acceptable” in terms of fashion (which is certainly a nebulous term in and of itself)….

    is it the selling of specific patterns/items/colors? or is it the use of those patterns/items/colors in conjunction with a specific name (e.g. ‘Navajo beaded blah blah blah’)? is it both?

    if someone goes out to purchase a dreamcatcher, do they *have* to purchase an authentic, hand-made dreamcatcher, else they’re disrespecting the history and sovereignty of the tribal nations?

    I’m genuinely trying to gain a deeper understanding of this issue, so please don’t attack me.

  • http://twitter.com/_whm w. m.

    while there are aspects of this letter I can support, it leaves me generally confused as to what is “acceptable” in terms of fashion (which is certainly a nebulous term in and of itself)….

    is it the selling of specific patterns/items/colors? or is it the use of those patterns/items/colors in conjunction with a specific name (e.g. ‘Navajo beaded blah blah blah’)? is it both?

    if someone goes out to purchase a dreamcatcher, do they *have* to purchase an authentic, hand-made dreamcatcher, else they’re disrespecting the history and sovereignty of the tribal nations?

    I’m genuinely trying to gain a deeper understanding of this issue, so please don’t attack me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=762547587 Fulcrum Books

    Thank you for writing this. 
    We included an excerpt from this post (with a link back) on our Indigenous Peoples’ Day post: http://fulcrumbookblog.com/

  • L Manywhiskers

    …I agree with your letter, “white PEOPLE” make && with our logo’s, name and native designs and we don’t get the credit that is due to all NATIVE!…

  • Phizzy54

    I am so happy that you sent this letter. There is so much junk out there passing as authentic. And our poorly educated youth have no idea. They are falling for it all hook.line & sinker. So sad. We should all call these people out. You are a hero.  Silence is the enemy. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    It’s an ad box based on navigation and topic – if you click on an article about urban outfitters, it pops up that ad. I looked at something on Piperlime, and it sent that item to follow me around the internet. You will see different things depending on if you clicked the links to the article or not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheldon.hudson3 Sheldon Hudson

    i’m a blackman born and raised in this country and i understand what you are feeling . time after time in this country your ancestry is mocked and made fun of and to add insult to injury robbed of your culture to make financial gain or profit . the plight of the native american is a black stain on the history of america by all of it’s inhabitants indifference to it’s recognition . may i as an individual take the time to apologize for the insensitivity that this country exhibits when dealing with matters of representing the native americans legacy. even though an apology from a lone citizen who may be just as guilty as the main perpetrators is and will not be enough to explain the horrible ignorance of most in this country, i feel that i must do so . as a kid when i was growing up in the school system and i was presented with a historybook denoting the arrival of christopher colubus as the discoverer of the new world i could not help but notice that the blatant racist inuendo that the indigenous peoples of this continent were totally ignored (how can you discover a land when there are natives already there) i hope you can find some kind , any kind of peace and solace in your protest of this ugly hijacking of your people’s heritage and may you forever prosper from the spirit of being a genuine entity from the supreme creator as it was meant to be again, i apologize and hope that you will except it from a humble observer of injustice . may peace be unto you , sincere,y sheldon hudson .                       my maternal grandmother has native american lineage of which i don’t know much about but i’m trying to find out more about through research . 

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheldon.hudson3 Sheldon Hudson

    i’m a blackman born and raised in this country and i understand what you are feeling . time after time in this country your ancestry is mocked and made fun of and to add insult to injury robbed of your culture to make financial gain or profit . the plight of the native american is a black stain on the history of america by all of it’s inhabitants indifference to it’s recognition . may i as an individual take the time to apologize for the insensitivity that this country exhibits when dealing with matters of representing the native americans legacy. even though an apology from a lone citizen who may be just as guilty as the main perpetrators is and will not be enough to explain the horrible ignorance of most in this country, i feel that i must do so . as a kid when i was growing up in the school system and i was presented with a historybook denoting the arrival of christopher colubus as the discoverer of the new world i could not help but notice that the blatant racist inuendo that the indigenous peoples of this continent were totally ignored (how can you discover a land when there are natives already there) i hope you can find some kind , any kind of peace and solace in your protest of this ugly hijacking of your people’s heritage and may you forever prosper from the spirit of being a genuine entity from the supreme creator as it was meant to be again, i apologize and hope that you will except it from a humble observer of injustice . may peace be unto you , sincere,y sheldon hudson .                       my maternal grandmother has native american lineage of which i don’t know much about but i’m trying to find out more about through research . 

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheldon.hudson3 Sheldon Hudson

    i’m a blackman born and raised in this country and i understand what you are feeling . time after time in this country your ancestry is mocked and made fun of and to add insult to injury robbed of your culture to make financial gain or profit . the plight of the native american is a black stain on the history of america by all of it’s inhabitants indifference to it’s recognition . may i as an individual take the time to apologize for the insensitivity that this country exhibits when dealing with matters of representing the native americans legacy. even though an apology from a lone citizen who may be just as guilty as the main perpetrators is and will not be enough to explain the horrible ignorance of most in this country, i feel that i must do so . as a kid when i was growing up in the school system and i was presented with a historybook denoting the arrival of christopher colubus as the discoverer of the new world i could not help but notice that the blatant racist inuendo that the indigenous peoples of this continent were totally ignored (how can you discover a land when there are natives already there) i hope you can find some kind , any kind of peace and solace in your protest of this ugly hijacking of your people’s heritage and may you forever prosper from the spirit of being a genuine entity from the supreme creator as it was meant to be again, i apologize and hope that you will except it from a humble observer of injustice . may peace be unto you , sincere,y sheldon hudson .                       my maternal grandmother has native american lineage of which i don’t know much about but i’m trying to find out more about through research . 

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheldon.hudson3 Sheldon Hudson

    i’m a blackman born and raised in this country and i understand what you are feeling . time after time in this country your ancestry is mocked and made fun of and to add insult to injury robbed of your culture to make financial gain or profit . the plight of the native american is a black stain on the history of america by all of it’s inhabitants indifference to it’s recognition . may i as an individual take the time to apologize for the insensitivity that this country exhibits when dealing with matters of representing the native americans legacy. even though an apology from a lone citizen who may be just as guilty as the main perpetrators is and will not be enough to explain the horrible ignorance of most in this country, i feel that i must do so . as a kid when i was growing up in the school system and i was presented with a historybook denoting the arrival of christopher colubus as the discoverer of the new world i could not help but notice that the blatant racist inuendo that the indigenous peoples of this continent were totally ignored (how can you discover a land when there are natives already there) i hope you can find some kind , any kind of peace and solace in your protest of this ugly hijacking of your people’s heritage and may you forever prosper from the spirit of being a genuine entity from the supreme creator as it was meant to be again, i apologize and hope that you will except it from a humble observer of injustice . may peace be unto you , sincere,y sheldon hudson .                       my maternal grandmother has native american lineage of which i don’t know much about but i’m trying to find out more about through research . 

  • Dao

    Bravo! 

  • Dao

    Bravo! 

  • Dao

    Bravo! 

  • Dao

    Bravo! 

  • Anonymous

    I understand your outrage, but have you ever been to an Urban Outfitters store before?  Maybe this is the first time you’ve overtly been offended but part of their popularity has been their willingness to sell things that are risque at a high price.   Thoughtful piece but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from such a worthless brand.

  • Anonymous

    I understand your outrage, but have you ever been to an Urban Outfitters store before?  Maybe this is the first time you’ve overtly been offended but part of their popularity has been their willingness to sell things that are risque at a high price.   Thoughtful piece but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from such a worthless brand.

  • Anonymous

    I understand your outrage, but have you ever been to an Urban Outfitters store before?  Maybe this is the first time you’ve overtly been offended but part of their popularity has been their willingness to sell things that are risque at a high price.   Thoughtful piece but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from such a worthless brand.

  • Anonymous

    I understand your outrage, but have you ever been to an Urban Outfitters store before?  Maybe this is the first time you’ve overtly been offended but part of their popularity has been their willingness to sell things that are risque at a high price.   Thoughtful piece but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from such a worthless brand.

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  • Bernadette Durbin

    I’ve also seen specific examples where they’ve done cheap knockoffs of artists’ handiwork without attribution or compensation. Or apologies, when they’re called on it. (Non-apology apologies, i.e. “I’m sorry you feel that way”, don’t count.) So not only are they culturally insensitive, they’re thieves. Lovely bunch of jerks.

  • Bernadette Durbin

    I’ve also seen specific examples where they’ve done cheap knockoffs of artists’ handiwork without attribution or compensation. Or apologies, when they’re called on it. (Non-apology apologies, i.e. “I’m sorry you feel that way”, don’t count.) So not only are they culturally insensitive, they’re thieves. Lovely bunch of jerks.

  • Bernadette Durbin

    I’ve also seen specific examples where they’ve done cheap knockoffs of artists’ handiwork without attribution or compensation. Or apologies, when they’re called on it. (Non-apology apologies, i.e. “I’m sorry you feel that way”, don’t count.) So not only are they culturally insensitive, they’re thieves. Lovely bunch of jerks.

  • Bernadette Durbin

    I’ve also seen specific examples where they’ve done cheap knockoffs of artists’ handiwork without attribution or compensation. Or apologies, when they’re called on it. (Non-apology apologies, i.e. “I’m sorry you feel that way”, don’t count.) So not only are they culturally insensitive, they’re thieves. Lovely bunch of jerks.

  • http://twitter.com/UrbanWeedsBlog Lisa Warninger

    Woot! Hooray, very glad you wrote this. I totally agree. I’m Caucasian, but I find the appropriation of Native American identity by Urban Outfitters (and others) to be totally out of line. It is not showing an appreciation of the beautiful cultures, but rather exploiting the cultures to their own financial gain. I will not support it and support my Native American sisters and brothers in standing against it.

  • Emily Cohen

    woo go Sasha! beautiful!

  • Elanabaurer

    I have excerpted this wonderful letter on my tumblr http://whitepeopleinheaddresses.tumblr.com 

  • Iatotoro

    Does Urban Outfitters own Forever 21?

  • Anonymous

    Hello Sasha,

    I am deeply sorry this issue has triggered an offended reaction from you. It is not our intention to demean or offend any native people. I hope you will be willing to call our head office in Philadelphia to discuss this issue at 1- 215-454-5500

    • salish2011

      It is “never” anyone’s intention to demean or offend Native people by selling cheap representations  of their culture and using a tribal name? Someone you paid designed it, someone you paid manufactured it and you sold it. Give me a break, you made a quick buck off it like all the other people have for the last  400 years. Why not design and sell a “Christopher Columbus” line? Oh, wait, he’s not cool..

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kristin-Johnson/644645530 Kristin Johnson

        I’m calling this number.  It’s legit, I checked.  If they get enough complaints, they WILL take notice.  All it takes is a bunch of us to make a simple phone call.

        (When you reach the automated message, go to the company directory and look up “Senk” for his extension)

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  • Carlee

    Right the f*** on sister!!!

  • Franasaurus

    Amazing

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=517609756 Alexapocalypse Brown

    I’d add my name to this

  • Guest

    i love this letter..

  • http://www.facebook.com/robyngirard Robyn Girard

    Fantastic letter. Read, think and pass it on! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/robyngirard Robyn Girard

    Fantastic letter. Read, think and pass it on! 

  • mooncat

    Wonderful letter.

  • Constant Comment

    I have never “gotten” this store.

  • ayn

    This is fantastic, and a version of this letter should bombard every clothing store that sells these travesties.

  • BSK

    Please tell me you actually sent this!

    • Guest

      yes, she did.

  • Faery
  • Rita_S

    Thank you for your open letter.