Following the not-so-fashionable failures of Urban Outfitters, Paul Frank, and Hello Kitty, clothing retailer GAP pulled a T-shirt from its website this week after it sparked a public outcry from countless Native American communities.
The shirt was created by American designer Mark McNairy for an exclusive Gap men's line by "GQ's best new designers." The navy tee was a basic cut with two words across the chest: "Manifest Destiny"
See also: Urban Outfitters Pulls Navajo Name from Collection; Heard Museum Weighs In on Native-Inspired Fashion That Should Be Produced -Beyond Buckskin: Jessica R. Metcalfe Expands Her Native Fashion Blog into an Online Shop - Bloggers Adrienne Keene and Dr. Jessica Metcalfe on Native Headdresses, Patterns, and "Aztec" Labels in Popular Fashion
The origins of the term "Manifest Destiny" are rooted in a 19th century belief that the U.S. was destined to conquer the world. And while the phrase has different meanings to different groups. It was used by Americans as a call to revive the Old World, as a reason to expand the U.S. territory past the Louisiana border, and as reason to go to war with Mexico in the 1840s. And according to U.S. historians, the term and the believe was also used to justify the genocide of thousands of Native Americans.
"It is with great sadness that I notify you I will not be shopping at your store until you remove the "Manifest Destiny" t-shirts available at your stores," wrote Renee Roman Nose, an actress and Native American activist in an open letter to GAP early this week. "Manifest Destiny was the catch phrase which led to the genocide of millions of my people, millions of Indigenous people throughout this country. I am also inviting the more than 1700 people on my Facebook page to boycott your stores and inviting them to shop with their conscience. In the past Gap has been known for inclusion, rather than exclusion. I am disappointed to see that your marketing and sales strategies have changed so dramatically."
GAP responded to Roman Nose and a Change.org petition by pulling the tees from all of its websites and stores and publicly apologizing for the design:
"Thank you for your feedback regarding the "Manifest Destiny" t-shirt. Based on customer feedback, we will no longer offer the t-shirt in our stores or online."
McNairy, who designed the T-shirt, was less gracious and turned to Twitter late Monday, writing:
McNairy's statement only resulted in more uproar from the Native community. He later deleted the tweet and apologized, saying he acted out emotionally and didn't intend to offend anyone with the design. He's since written multiple tweets about not being a racist and being hurt by the public outcry.
GAP's not alone in its poor decision-making and cultural insensitivity and joins the ranks of Urban Outfitters, who came out with a "Navajo-inspired" line of undies and flasks earlier this year, Paul Frank, who had models wear "Native-inspired" headdresses, and Hello Kitty, who recently introduced a line of "Aztec-inspired" accessories.
"This huge company is using this catchphrase 'Aztec,' right now, to make sales, to profit off of indigenous communities who have suffered so much in the past 500 years and none of it's going back to the community and it's actually misrepresenting the community," said local blogger Jessica Metcalfe to Jackalope Ranch earlier this year when talking about the Hello Kitty line.
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Metcalfe is Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota and earned her Ph.D. in American Indian Studies through University of Arizona. "When you're targeting a younger audience and you knowingly tack a name onto an item that is not correct, you are continuing perpetuating miseducation."
The GAP shirt has since been parodied most notably by artist Gregg Deal who posted the following image on Twitter (via @thelamesauce):
"This stuff shows up in magazines in supermarkets, it is right there, part of our daily interaction," continued Metcalfe. "Fashion is so intimately connected to identity, it is our second skin - what we wear says something about who we are and it says something about our perspectives on the world."