Late October, Sasha Houston Brown, a member of the Santee Sioux Nation, wrote an open letter to the chief executive officer of Urban Outfitters, criticizing the company’s gross cultural and religious appropriation of American Indians’ traditional designs and sacred objects.
Among its Native-themed attire and jewelry, Urban Outfitters offered the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace, Staring at Stars Skull Native Headdress T-shirt and the Navajo Hipster Panty.
“None of your products are actually made by Indigenous nations, nor were any Native peoples involved in the production or design process,” Brown wrote. “On the contrary, you have created cheap knock-off trinkets made in factories overseas. Selling imported plastic and nylon dreamcatchers disrespects our history and undermines our sovereignty as Tribal Nations.”
Soon after Brown’s letter appeared on Racialicious and was subsequently picked up by numerous blogs and media sites, the Attorney-General of the Navajo Nation sent a cease-and-desist letter to Urban Outfitters, attesting the name “Navajo” is the Nation’s intellectual property, reported the RetailCustomerExperience.com. The letter cited The Federal Indian Arts and Crafts act of 1990 and the Federal Trade Commission Act prohibiting U.S. retailers and manufacturers from misleading costumers in any way that a product is Native American-made when it is not.
Urban Outfitters responded to threats of legal action by removing the word “Navajo” from its merchandise.
But the controversy has weighed heavily on the clothing retailer’s performance. Urban’s net income has decreased four quarters in a row. On January 9 Glen Senk, CEO since 2007, abruptly resigned. The company’s announcement of Senk’s departure late in the following day caused Urban’s stock in after-hours trading to tumble by 14 percent from the day’s close, reported Forbes. Billionaire Richard Hayne, the 64-year-old co-founder of Urban, has assumed Senk’s former position. But the corporate shake-up still caused Urban’s shares to drop 18.6 percent.