Urban Outfitters is notorious for stealing the work of individual designers and selling items copped straight from Chinatown in bulk at a marked up rate in their stores. Now, the Navajo Nation is suing the retailer for their use of the name of the tribe, which is trademarked, in the names of the “Navajo Hipster Panty,” the “Navajo Flask,” and jewelry falsely labeled as “vintage Navajo silver” originally having come from a trading post. The lawsuit follows a cease and desist letter with which the retailer failed to comply.


The lawsuit filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Mexico alleges trademark violations and violations of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it illegal to sell arts or crafts in a way to falsely suggest they’re made by American Indians when they’re not.

The tribe has about 10 registered trademarks on the Navajo name that cover clothing, footwear, online retail sales, household products and textiles. Tribal justice officials said they’re intent on protecting what they believe are among the tribe’s most valuable assets.

“The fame or reputation of the Navajo name and marks is such that, when defendant uses the ‘Navajo’ and ‘Navaho’ marks with its goods and services, a connection with the Navajo Nation is falsely presumed,” the lawsuit states.

Urban Outfitters insists that the use of the word Navajo is a nod to a trend in fashion that’s been popular in the past few years, not to the 300,000 member tribe. But what’s most bothersome is not the legality of Urban’s actions, it’s the cultural misappropriation. It’s true that you’d have to be a little silly to believe that a silver necklace sold at Urban Outfitters really came from a Navajo trading post, but Urban Outfitters should not be allowed to romanticize a culture just for monetary gain. And those panties and that flask, especially considering the sensitive nature of alcohol abuse in the Native American community, are both just plain offensive.

What do you think?


  • http://www.twitter.com/amanilovejoy Amani

    Am I the only one that thinks this is a little absurd? If you know anything about Urban Outfitters history, you’d know they are no retail saints..BUT this is just silly. This is no different in my opinion that something being labeled “tribal” because it is African or Indian, etc. This is a result of globalization — somebody see’s something of a different culture, puts a twist to it, and sells it back to the rest of us. It just so happens that Indian, southwestern, and aztec prints are all the rave right now. Black people are so used to being exploited that I don’t have much sympathy when I read things like this.

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  • kissa

    Because their land was stolen from them and called USA…This is their 40 acres and a mule..The law is written that no one can profit off any tribe under no circumstances..So under said law they can sue..

  • ChickenHead

    Good for them. I hope they (Navajo Nation) win!!!

  • e.breezy

    ::standing ovation::

  • DinehWoman

    I think it’s great! As a Navajo I get sick of seeing this stuff being sold this way. Enough is enough! Had no idea the Navajo Nation had trademarked the name. Really glad they did. Cultural appropriation, especially when not counterweighted with real knowledge of the actual people is hurtful. (Studies have shown that it leads to higher suicide rates among American Indian youth, read up on it.) American Indians are so ignored in this country and then used as mascots and expected to be everyone else’s entertainment. Did you know the Navajo Nation is the largest American Indian tribe in the United States? Did you know their reservation is the size of Ireland? Did you know that if you’ve been to the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley, you’ve been to the Navajo Nation? Did you know the Navajo language was used to code military messages during WWII and helped win the war in the Pacific? I mean, it’s stupid people don’t know these things. Also, the fashion industry actually is really ignorant. I saw a fashion editor saying how great Navajo design was and how she could see Eskimos wearing it across the tundra. The Navajo Nation is in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Not the tundra.

  • lukewarm

    No, I didnt know.

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  • Mari

    Well I certainly know where I will not be shopping! This “tribal” trend seems kind of controversial when we make novelties that directly or indirectly reflect somebody’s culture. It’s one thing to own jewelry made by natives or have designs on your clothes that are inspired by other cultures, but to directly call it “tribal” or “native” is pretty cheap.

  • http://heyjack.fr/ Setzo’o

    Thats a good article (i agree with your point of view)

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