Photo courtesy Rebecca Taylor
Rebecca Taylor recently released a pre-spring 'Navajo' collection, but almost immediately removed the word from product descriptions.

Blackhorse: Yet Another Designer Releases 'Navajo' Collection

Amanda Blackhorse
1/22/16

This week, fashion designer Rebecca Taylor released a pre-spring “Navajo” collection and, almost immediately, pulled the name “Navajo” from their line. The fashion website, Racked, reported Rebecca Taylor’s PR representative emailed the website introducing a new “Navajo” collection. The fashion website asked the represntative if they had worked with or consulted with Navajo artisans, but the representative did not reply, and the term “Navajo” was pulled immediately from the collection’s Web presence.

The website reports traces of the term “Navajo” can be found in URLs and cached Google results, but as of January 22, there is not a single mention of “Navajo.” The immediate change could be to avoid a potential lawsuit with the Navajo Nation.

Photo courtesy Urban Outfitters.

In 2011, Urban Outfitters released various items with the same term “Navajo.” They released a “Navajo hipster panty,” a “Navajo-drinking flask” and other items labeled as Navajo items. The problem is that the term Navajo is not a free-for-all. The term is federally protected, as it is registered and owned by the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the United States.

Soon after Urban Outfitters released this “Navajo” collection, the Navajo Nation filed suit citing violations of their intellectual property and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, which prohibits the sale of items that suggest they are were authentically produced by Native people. Currently, litigation continues and the Navajo Nation appears to be making ground in their case.

It appears that the Navajo Nation has set precedent for others. Other designers such as Ralph Lauren and Kokon To Zai have also been called out for misappropriation and outright stealing of Native ceremonial designs. Although other Native people may not have the legal leverage that the Navajo Nation has with federally-protected intellectual property, it appears that today more than ever, the misappropriation of Native culture and identity is being challenged. From sports teams to fashion, music festivals, Hollywood and even Halloween costumes, there is a growing awareness that cultural misappropriation is a fine line between overwhelming public outcry or a lawsuit. 

Amanda Blackhorse. Photo courtesy Malcolm Benally.

Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, is a mother and activist. She and four other plaintiffs won a case against the Washington football team that stripped it of six of its seven trademarks. Follow her on Twitter @blackhorse_a. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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RBM-Charley's picture
RBM-Charley
Submitted by RBM-Charley on
Let's keep challenging such misappropriations on every level! Pretendians and Don Juanabees must go, along with mascots and stolen cultural property. Thanks for speaking out, Ms. Blackhorse.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Everyone in fashion wants to be Native, but no one wants to suffer like a Native.

jt_tyrrell's picture
jt_tyrrell
Submitted by jt_tyrrell on
I just find it ironic how places like Urban Outfitters can insult the Native culture by wear sacred headdresses, and that's the equivalent to being a 16 year old wearing medals of honor in public 'because they're cool looking'. But the difference is, if someone is disrespecting a medal of honor, there are consequences, but if someone disrespects sacred Native items, such as a headdress, they just get a slap on the wrist. We need more people like you, Ms. Blackhorse, to show people this isn't alright.
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