Navajo Nation: Urban Outfitters Must Change Clothing Line

October 14, 2011

Photo courtesy Urban Outfitters.
The "Navajo Flask" offered by Urban Outfitters.
Photo courtesy Urban Outfitters.
The “Navajo Hipster Panty” offered by Urban Outfitters.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The fall fashion shows and magazines have hit on a trend that has some Native Americans upset. The clothing retailer Urban Outfitters is under fire for using the word “Navajo” to describe a line of clothing and products.

The Urban Outfitters line includes a “Navajo Hipster Panty” covered in an orange, yellow and black tribal print and a “Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask,” which looks like it’s been wrapped in a tiny tapestry.

Northern Arizona University anthropology professor Kerry Thompson said while customers may not realize it, attaching Native American imagery and iconography to something related to alcohol is particularly ignorant.

"It really does ignore larger social issues that a lot of Native American communities battle on a daily basis," Thompson said. "Being Indian is not an occupation. It’s not a part time thing. It’s not something you can dress up to be anymore that you can dress up to be African-American."

The Navajo Nation owns 12 trademarks on the use of the word "Navajo," some of which which specifically cover clothing. The attorney general of the Navajo Nation recently sent Urban Outfitters a cease-and-desist letter over 20 items in its “Navajo” line.

In a statement the company said:

"Urban Outfitters is a trend-led lifestyle retailer dedicated to inspiring our customer with engaging product. 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."

The retailer said it currently has no plans to modify or discontinue any of the products.

The Navajo Nation Office of the Attorney General issued the following statement:

"Whether spoken or written, the Navajo name and corresponding marks are what make all things that are actually associated with it exceptional. So when products that have absolutely no connection to the Navajo Nation, its entities, its people, and their products are marketed and retailed under the guise that they are Navajo in origin, the Navajo Nation does not regard this as benign or trivial. It takes appropriate action to maintain distinctiveness and clarity of valid name-association in the market and society."