Urban Outfitters: Emancipation of misrepresentation


Recent fashion trends have been moving towards native patterns. Girls everywhere are donning native patterns on everything from their shirts to their socks. Urban outfitters, a largely trend based brand, took full advantage of this by starting a whole line inspired by Native American style patterns. They called the line “Navajo” surely thinking that not only were they offering their customer base what they want all while seeming more culturally diverse. Boy were they wrong!

Sasha Houston Brown, a 24 year old Native American women, was so offended by the line’s inauthentic depiction of Navajo traditional clothing, that she was moved to write a letter of complaint. She wrote “As a Native American woman, I am deeply distressed by your company’s mass marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor. I take personal offense to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as ‘fashion’.” In all honesty, she’s right. After looking through the line myself the products look cheap and not one thing that was “Navajo inspired” looked anything like Navajo traditional patterns ( or any Native American traditional patterns).  And to top it all off, they included a “Navajo” patterned hip flask! (If this isn’t even a little bit racist, I don’t know what is)

To make matters worst, they not only offended the native American people but,  the use of the word “Navajo” is illegal. The Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 and the Federal Trade Commission Act, make it so that it’s illegal to imply that a product is “Native-American” when it’s not ( which is blatantly obvious that the line is not). Also the word  “Navajo” is trademarked by the Navajo Nation of Native Americans.

So far, the only statements made by Urban Outfitters was defensive.

Urban Outfitters’ spokesman Ed Looram stated”Urban Outfitters is a trend-led lifestyle retailer dedicated to inspiring our customer with engaging product. Like many other fashion brands, we interpret trends and will continue to do so for years to come.” and “The Native American–inspired trend and specifically the term `Navajo’ have been cycling through fashion, fine art and design for the last few years.”

Though this statement may be true it still doesn’t reverse the mistakes made. The company has changed the name of the line to “Patterned” instead (clearly because of fear of legal action) and refuses to pull any of the products in the line.

If I was the PR executive of this account I would also change the name of the line but, in addition, I would make a less defensive statement. It would something like this “It was not the intention of Urban Outfitters to offend anyone or misrepresent the Native American people. Our intention, as a trend-based company, was to provide a trend that our customers are looking for.” Then, I would pull some of the more offensive items such as the panties and the hip flask.

Overall, I don’t think Urban Outfitters intended to be offensive but, as it turns out, it was slightly misguided in the naming of the products.


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2 responses »

  1. This is a very interesting and common situation. I agree with you, Urban’s response came across very harsh and defensive. I feel like company marketing departments and designers should be more educated on legalities of the industry before naming a clothing line.

  2. Pingback: Comments on Blogs « oliviaclements

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