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Navajo Nation takes on Urban Outfitters, and wins

October 19, 2011 |  5:13 pm

Navajo
Urban Outfitters appears to have caved to the Navajo Nation.

As of Wednesday, the trendy chain store had removed the word "Navajo" from the description of about 20 items on its website, including the "Navajo flask" and the "Navajo Hipster Panty."

Other items that bore the Navajo moniker include a pair of "Navajo" socks, a "Navajo" print tunic, and "Navajo" feathered earrings.

Urban Outfitters has replaced the word "Navajo" with "printed."

This is a coup for the Navajo Nation, which sent Urban Outfitters' chief executive, Glen Senk, a cease and desist order earlier this month, demanding the name "Navajo" be pulled from the store's products. The tribe did not take issue with the items themselves — designers borrow (steal?) from indigenous cultures all the time. But the Navajo nation has at least 10 trademarks on the word "Navajo," which covers clothing, textiles and household products.

"When products that have absolutely no connection to the Navajo Nation, its entities, its people, and their products are marketed and retailed under the guise that they are Navajo in origin, the Navajo Nation does not regard this as benign or trivial," Brian Lewis, an attorney for the tribe told the Associated Press. "It takes appropriate action to maintain distinctiveness and clarity of valid name association in the market and society."

Ed Looram, a spokesman for Urban Outfitters, had defended the company's use of the word "Navajo" to describe its items.

"Like many other fashion brands, we interpret trends and will continue to do so for years to come," he said, according to the AP. "The Native American-inspired trend and specifically the term 'Navajo' have been cycling through fashion, fine art and design for the last few years."

As of now, it's still unclear what made the store change its tune. But the Navajo Nation said that, regardless, the move is a step in the right direction.

"The Urban Outfitters Corporation’s recent removal of the Navajo name from its online marketing and retailing are positive actions that are more consistent with the corporation’s responsibilities than previously demonstrated," the Navajo Nation said in a statement.

"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."

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--Deborah Netburn

Image: Urban Outfitter's "Navajo Hipster Panty" pictured above has been renamed the "Printed Hipster Panty" after the Navajo Nation sent a cease and desist letter to the mass market retailer. Credit: Matt York / Associated Press

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