Urban Outfitters Resolves Legal Dispute with Navajo Nation

Posted on

Urban Outfitters Resolves Legal Dispute with Navajo Nation


This month Urban Outfitters resolved its five-year legal dispute with the Navajo Nation. The lawsuit was originally filed against the company in March 2012 after they were accused of cultural appropriation of the Native American group’s name and aesthetic.

The brand released a range labelled as “Navajo” with over 20 products deemed problematic by the Native American group. These included underwear and a liquor flask, which were considered “derogatory and scandalous” by the group, particularly as the sale and consumption of alcohol is banned on the reservation. In its promotion of such items the large company, whilst happy to use the designs of the Navajo Nation, seemed to disregard its core values. The Navajo Nation’s president, Russell Begaye commented on their expectations of companies like Urban Outfitters, “We believe in protecting our Nation, our artisans, designs, prayers, and way of life. We expect that any company considering the use of the Navajo name, or our designs or motifs, will ask us for our permission”.

Laws are in place in the United States to stop appropriation such as this, including the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it illegal to sell arts or crafts in a way that falsely suggests they were produced by Native Americans. These often seem to be disregarded by large companies however.

The Urban Outfitters lawsuit signals a wider problem in the fashion world, where the term “Navajo” is used widely to describe a certain style of clothing. The name quickly been reduced to simply mean colourful embroidery and suede fringe whilst its cultural heritage is pushed to the wayside. This tendency to diminish a nation to a trend is incredibly problematic. Viewing American Indians as an aesthetic trend rather than a group of people with an intricate and culturally rich history is not only disrespectful but also dehumanising.

Interestingly the Navajo Nation now has plans to collaborate with the company it took legal action against, on an American Indian jewellery collection. Adrienne J. Keene, EdD, of Native Appropriations told Refinery 29, “To me, there is no respect in taking designs or cultural markers from a community, divorcing them from their meaning and context, and selling them for monetary gain. The way to truly respect Native communities in the fashion world is to support and buy directly from Native designers”. It is hopefully with this sentiment that Urban Outfitters intend to move forward.

Azeez Hayne, general counsel for Urban Outfitters Inc. said on the resolution of the dispute, “As a company, Urban Outfitters has long been inspired by the style of Navajo and other American Indian artists and look forward to the opportunity to work with them on future collaboration. We take the rights of artists and designers seriously, both in protecting our own and respecting the rights of others”.


Urban Outfitters Resolves Legal Dispute with Navajo Nation



Written by Emma Kate Hall

Emma is an English student at King’s College London. She loves reading, writing and travelling and hopes to pursue a career in fashion journalism full time after her degree.

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert