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.
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