What’s Not In A Name?: Urban Outfitters Quietly Changes Course on ‘Navajo’ Items

By Arturo R. García

In the midst of her excellent takedown of Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo” appparel line, Sasha Houston Brown focused on one suspiciously-named piece of underwear:

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.

Wednesday, Sasha passed along an update to the story from the Indian Country Today Media Network: a few days after UO spokesman Ed Looram said the company had “no plans to modify or discontinue any of these products,” the word Navajo has been completely scrubbed from its’ website.

In a release, the Navajo Nation Justice Department told the Associated Press Wednesday the move was “more consistent with the corporation’s responsibilities than previously demonstrated.”

As of Wednesday, items with the word “Navajo” in their description are now referred to as “Printed,” like the infamous Hipster Panty, which went from this:

to this:

 

Of course, the name “Hipster Panty” still makes it sound like it was made out of hair from Zooey Deschanel’s unicorn PBR puppy or whatever. But regardless, congrats to the Navajo Nation on this victory, and to Sasha and everyone who posted about this issue for pushing UO into the change!

 

 

 

 

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

    I liked your comment but I did so because of your last statement that ”This apathy we feel towards groups that aren’t ours (be it gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, geographical, nationality, etc) is a real bane in the existence of improving anything”  It’s not just many African Americans who are apathetic about groups tha aren’t ours, it’s most people. And most people are apathetic even about social or political concerns that directly impact them and their racial/ethnic group/s.(since as you allude for yourself, a person can belong to more than one racial/ethnic group).

    But I think that what complicates this  issue of African Americans wearing Native American named or inspired clothing and jewlery is that the designs of those items can often be said to be close to  (what we-meaing African Americans) think of as African designs. Least we forget, Native Americans aren’t the only population  who wore feathers and designed pottery and fabric with geometric and other stylized figures.

    Also, it has become almost customary for African Americans to claim some Native American ancestry. And sometimes that ancestry is documented. So who is to say that those Black folks you ran into wearing Native American inspired clothing/jewlery didn’t in fact have some traceable Native American ancestry?

    Also, it seems to me that since few African Americans know our specific African ancestries, most African Americans have become used to claiming and using generalized African cultural artifacts and fashion styles to express our African identity (for instance the Egyptian ankh, Akan adinkra symbols such as Sankofa, Akan kenti cloth, the Nigeria dansiki [dashiki],  and mudcloth from Mali).   I think a case could be made that we “appropriated” those African cultural traditions. My point is that having gotten use to feeling we (African Americans) have the right to any artifact or tradition that we want to from “the Motherland”, maybe we expanded that to feel that we have the right to rock whatever Indian artifact/style we want to-particularly since we also have “Indian blood”.

    I’m not saying that this is always right, I’m just trying to understand if it is why it is.   

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

    I’m Native and I went into UO yesterday just to see what I could see. So much feathered crap with plastic “turquoise” beads. Ick. Thank goodness for people like Sasha Brown. I haven’t lost all hope.

  • Chimaobi Ahamba

    Fantastic! Also, fantastic coverage. Not a big blow to appropriation by any means, but it’s gratifying nonetheless. Has me thinking “Yes! It is possible!”

  • Stayfreshiceland

    you have to give them props for at least taking a look at the feedback and making a decision that is aimed at avoiding further offence [at least to some degree]. they’re trying to help.

    • BSK

      It is more likely that they are trying to avoid bad press, hurt sales, or a lawsuit.  Their statements make it clear they don’t give a shit about offending others and certainly not about helping.

  • Nina Trumbo

    From the LA Times: ”Ed Looram, a spokesman for Urban Outfitters, had defended the company’s use of the word “Navajo” to describe its items. 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 year”

    Not only are they NOT apologizing for their usage of the Navajo name to hawk their offensive wares, they don’t acknowledge the tribe beyond just a “term” and consider Native American symbols/artwork to be “trends”. How disgusting.

    • Anonymous

      Exactly. They’ll use the name as a “trend” but ignore the people for whom they’ve named that “trend” after. It’s a perfect example of cultural appropriation.

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  • Teresadharris2000

    It’s not really an admission of contrition, now is it? They’re still selling, and making money, off  $8 panties.