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Urban Outfitters just can't seem to get their act together: the hipster mega-chain is now guilty of violating the copyright of the entire Navajo Nation. It all started on October 10, when Sasha Houston Brown, a Native American woman in Minneapolis, published an impassioned open letter of complaint to the Urban Outfitters C.E.O. Glen Senk. The letter eloquently expressed disgust over the "blatant racism and perverted cultural approbation" implied by products such as the Navajo Hipster Panty and, best of all, the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask. Beyond the purely offensive nature of these items, it turns out that their use of the term "Navajo" is actually illegal.
The Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, passed in 1990, expressly prohibits any false implication of a product's Native American origin:
"It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000."
In basic terms: no one can market a product as Native American if it is not in fact made by Native Americans. And it comes as no surprise that Urban Outfitters products are made very cheaply overseas. Not only that, but the Navajo Nation specifically holds 12 trademarks on the use of their name, including two that cover apparel retail, both in-store and online. As such, it is reported that the Attorney General of the Navajo Nation in fact sent a cease and desist notice to Urban Outfitters months before Brown's letter was published, but it went ignored, and even denied, until Brown brought the media's glare to the company.
The result? It seems that Urban realized that their cheeky use of racial terms in their product marketing was not worth the potential $1 mil in fines, and they completely removed the name "Navajo" from all products on their website on the night of October 18. The products themselves remained, but with far more generic descriptions. The "Navajo Flask," for example, became the "Printed Fabric Wrapped Flask," which, according to a recent statement by the Navajo DOJ, is satisfactory action.
But to all of you who want to sport this season's Southwestern looks, we beg the question: why give your dollars to Urban Outfitters' for a flask or a panty, when you could go for, say, French label Sandro's super-chic Gravure cardi-coat, or, better yet, a pair of authentic, handmade Pueblo moccasins, which, thanks to the Internet, are available to everyone for less than $100.
· Urban Outfitters' 'Navajo' Problem Becomes A Legal Issue [Jezebel]
· All Racked LA Controversies Coverage [Racked LA]