FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (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 company's website as “printed” instead of “Navajo.”
It's unclear whether the change has extended to any of Urban Outfitters' stores across the U.S. and in eight other countries. There was no sign of the word “Navajo” on any products at an Urban Outfitters in downtown Tempe on Wednesday.
The company received a cease-and-desist letter from the Navajo tribe a week ago, demanding the Navajo name be pulled from its products, Urban Outfitters spokesman Ed Looram said Wednesday. He declined to comment further, saying the matter is in the hands of the company's legal department.
Urban Outfitters last week told The Associated Press it had no plans to alter its products. The online name changes were first reported by Indian Country Today.
The Navajo Nation Department of Justice said Wednesday the changes were “positive” and “more consistent with the corporation's responsibilities than previously demonstrated.”
“If the company has also ceased using the Navajo name in conjunction with its merchandise in its retail stores and print-media advertising, these are encouraging steps by the company towards amicably resolving this matter,” the department said in a release.
The tribe holds at least 10 trademarks on the Navajo name that cover clothing, footwear, online retail sales, household products and textiles, and said it was intent on protecting those trademarks.
It's not the first time the Navajo Nation has taken action to assert its trademarks. The tribe licenses its name to other businesses in exchange for a share of their profits, and has identified about two dozen companies it believes are violating the Navajo trademark.
Earlier this year, the tribe successfully forced the cancellation of a “Navaho” trademark used by a French company doing business in the United States. The tribe argued the name was phonetically identical and infringed on its trademark.
“The corporation acted responsibly and adhered to its commitment to adopt a different trademark,” tribal attorney Brian Lewis told the AP. “In doing so the company confirmed its respect for the (Navajo) Nation and its principles. This is the preferred resolution of these kinds of matters.”
Urban Outfitters' use of “Navajo” sparked a flurry of criticism online, with tribal members and bloggers calling the product names offensive and telling the company to knock it off.
Shane Hendren, who heads the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Indian Arts and Crafts Association Education Fund, said the company's 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, New Mexico. “And having the cultural background, be able to not only give you an authentic design but stay within their cultural parameters.”
Native American fashion blogger Jessica Metcalfe also sees an opportunity for collaboration. The appropriation of Native cultures isn't likely to stop. But large corporations could benefit from working with Native artists who draw from the legacy of their ancestors, she said.
“I'm happy to see that Native people are standing up and saying that this profiting off what is ours is wrong,” said Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa.
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 – nor did the Navajo-branded underwear in a culture that preaches modesty.
“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.