Urban Outfitters pulls ’Navajo’ name from website

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Urban Outfitters has removed the word “Navajo” from product names on its website in the wake of criticism from the Navajo Nation government, bloggers and others, who viewed the usage as disrespectful and a trademark violation.

As recently as last week, the trendy clothing chain used “Navajo” in more than 20 product names online, including jackets, earrings and sneakers. Two items in particular sparked controversy: the “Navajo Hipster Panty” and the “Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask.”

The products now appear on the chain’s website as “printed” instead of “Navajo.”

It’s unclear whether the change has affected any of the company’s stores across the U.S. and in eight other countries. But there was no sign of the “Navajo” name on any products at an Urban Outfitters in downtown Tempe on Wednesday.

Urban Outfitters spokesman Ed Looram confirmed Wednesday that the company received a cease-and-desist letter from the Navajo tribe a week ago, demanding the “Navajo” name be pulled from its products.

Looram said the matter is in the hands of the company’s legal department, and declined to comment further.

The tribe holds at least 10 trademarks on the Navajo name that cover clothing, footwear, online retail sales, household products and textiles.

Its Department of Justice said last week it hoped Urban Outfitters would adopt another name. The agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Urban Outfitters’ online name change was first reported by Indian Country Today.

The company’s use of “Navajo” in its product names sparked a flurry of criticism online, with tribal members and bloggers calling it offensive and telling the company to knock it off.

Shane Hendren, who heads the Albuquerque, N.M.-based Indian Arts and Crafts Association Education Fund, said Urban Outfitters’ decision to pull the name from its site appeared to be a direct response to the backlash.

If the clothing chain or any other company wants to showcase the Navajo name, they should go directly to the source, he said.

“There’s a great many Navajo designers out there who would be more than willing to work for a firm and design garments for them,” said Hendren, of Tohatchi, N.M. “And having the cultural background, be able to not only give you an authentic design but stay within their cultural parameters.”

Jaclyn Roessel, of the Navajo town of Kayenta, said Urban Outfitters’ approach to Native-inspired designs was callous and irresponsible.

Alcoholism is one of the reservation’s most prevalent social ills, so having a flask branded as Navajo didn’t sit well with her or others. The sale and consumption of alcohol is banned on the Navajo reservation.

“I think it’s up to these mass retailers to start advocating for more responsible production of good when working with sensitive things,” said Roessel, who educates others on American Indian culture at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

“I’m curious to see what the ripple effects of this are,” she added. “And I hope they’re positive.”

———

Associated Press writer Michelle Price in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Please review our Policies and Procedures before registering or commenting

News Tribune - comments