Culture News

Urban Outfitters Pulls Navajo Name from Collection; Heard Museum Weighs In on Native-Inspired Fashion That Should Be Produced

Way to go, Urban Outfitters. Last week, the clothing store caused a nationwide stir in Native American communities with its collection of "Navajo-inspired" items. Community members signed petitions, open letters were sent, and the Arizona-based Navajo Nation ordered a cease and desist on the word "Navajo" (to which it owns the trademark). A heated debate about the cultural insensitivity -- and legality -- of the clothing store's collection quickly followed.

Until Wednesday morning, the collection included the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, the OBEY Wool Navajo 5-Panel Cap, and the Navajo Hipster Panty. But a search on the Urban Outfitters website for "Navajo" now returns no results. Looks like Urban Outfitters removed the word from every item's name (e.g. the Navajo Hipster Panty is now the Printed Hipster Panty).

We decided to take the issue to the experts at the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix, who were more than happy to weigh in and show a few artistic and cultural inspirations Urban Outfitters skipped out on. 

"There's so many other things that [Urban Outfitters] could have done that would have been so much more interesting," says Andrea Hanley, director of the Berlin Gallery at the Heard.

She shows us some of the pieces going into the newest exhibition at the gallery, including Steven J. Yazzie's painting (seen above, next to the Navajo Hipster panty) and a vibrant print from Normal Akers (below). 

​Native artists are doing diverse, interesting, and innovative work all over the country, Hanley tells us. "Why do you have to go to this cheap kind of version?" she asks. "Why wouldn't we be able to collaborate with really great, contemporary Indian artists?"

The patterns that Urban Outfitters is selling as "Navajo" are likely inspired by traditional Navajo rugs, Hanley says as she sorts through the piles of hand-woven rugs in the Heard's gift shop. Each one has an attached meaning, time and place in its culture. 

"They're different time periods and they're different styles," she says. "And they're from different areas within the Navajo reservation."

The Heard Museum's Larissa Curtis agrees. "And to just slap it on a shirt, it gets to be a little bit offensive," she says, "because they don't know what they're doing."

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Lauren Gilger
Contact: Lauren Gilger